In certain parts on society, menstruation is associated with stigmatizing traditions and restrictions for women. We are calling for an end to this suffering.
When she was 13 years old she got her first period. She mistook it for dysentery. When she asked her mother about it, she slammed a bunch of rags in my hand and said “my daughter, you become untouchable”. She pulled her inside the other room.
Then came a list of restrictions: “Do not touch the kitchen and worshiping area”, and “Stay away from your father and other relatives”. She had to stay alone in her room for a week. What hurt the most was not able to see her father or any male members of her family during those days.
The practice of isolating women during their period exists across the country in differing forms.
When asked “Why can’t she go outside the room?” she received silence. The crippling sensation running deep in her entire body, the red blood was a sin. The same red blood that represents me as a woman. In a fit of rage, I would enter the kitchen and touch everything that my mother restricted. I would eat pickles from refrigerator, singing and touching everything.
The second time she menstruated she kept it a secret. It was just a normal day for her. She woke up, went to the kitchen and did whatever she liked. Then when everybody knew she was on her period and touching everything it turned into a heated debate. She was lucky enough that her father was progressive and supported her move..
But women around the country are not as lucky as her. The situation of women living at the rural areas of India is terrible. The practice of isolating women during their period exists across the country in differing forms. In some places, women cannot be in their own homes. While in others, women can be in the house but not in the kitchen and worship room. They are also forbidden from touching other people (especially male members of the family), cattle and growing fruit and vegetables.
The most extreme form of seclusion is practiced in the western part of the country. Where they banish menstruating women to live in sheds outside the houses. They are not the first and sadly we can’t say for sure that they will be the last. The exact numbers are not available but it is believed that dozens of women die every year in the name of tradition, as if menstruating women do not deserve basic human rights.
Another challenge is that women themselves believe the traditions. A schoolgirl in, once told me that God will curse her if she doesn’t follow the rules of seclusion during her period. Girls continue the practice because they fear God will be angry with them and they will bring misfortune on the family.
The government has taken a new approach to this issue. Legal initiative and awareness campaigns are going on hand-in-hand. I have long been advocating that it is not cultural issue. It is a human rights issue. It is not a part of religion but part of superstition. It is against women’s rights. It is also a legal issue.