Cultural Practices Label Menstruating Women as Taboo

About the video: Ancient Hindu customs consider women during menstruation as ‘polluted’. The women are forbidden to fulfil their daily household chores fearing that they may exert a negative influence on their surroundings. However, women from Walhe village in Maharasthra continue their work as usual. They cook, wash and conduct their daily poojas.

But yet the women in Wahle village are still effected by the ancient belief that a bad omen may befall them and their families. Once a year the women participate in Rushi Panachami, a ‘Vrata’ to be observed by woman. In Hinduism Vrata generally means to carry out certain obligations with a view to achieve divine blessings. The Rushi Panachami day in particular focuses on the women asking the Rishis to wash out all their sins. This includes the possible pollution they may have caused during their menstruation.

The women of Wahle village fast for a whole day and in the evening they break the rigor with a pooja at the local Valmiki Rishi Temple. Relieved that they have washed out their sins, they return home until the next menstruation cycle will have ‘polluted’ their household again.

The Community Correspondent: Rohini Pawar our Community Correspondent from Wahle village observes: “I do not feel that women during their menstruation are polluting their environment and I hope, that my community does not believe in this superstitious ideas on the apparently negative effects of a women. If it gives people peace of mind, this tradition seems good. But women should not be viewed as bad influence for their community.”

The Issue: Some sources believe that the Rushi Panachami Varta is not held in today’s world anymore. But as seen in Wahle village the religious actions are still driven by the ancient set of beliefs that menstruation has a negative effect on the community.

The ancient custom has its origin in Hindu Mythology. The story relating to the Rishi Panchami tells of a Brahman man and his wife who do not follow the prescribed rules during menstrual cycles. Afterwards the couples’ life is bereft with misfortune. When they are reborn, they return to earth as an animal which represents the lowest lifecycle in Hinduism. They get relieved from the vicious cycle only because their son and daughter-in-law fast and pray for them.

The story is only one of many, that tells people across the world, that women are in some ways inferior. Many world religions have labelled women who are menstruating as sinful, unclean or as a bad influence. These beliefs have lead to open discrimination of women by excluding them from the community until the menstruation has passed.

The discrimination of these woman is a point of discussion today as it severely interferes with gender equality rights. It also distorts the women’s perspectives on their own bodies and their sexuality. The common belief teaches young girls across the globe that bleeding is unnatural. The fact that it is part of female life cycle and therefore a natural condition, is still ignored. 

Call to action: The United Nations states that culture and religious tradition are frequently used to sanctify harmful practices that aim to perpetuate female subjugation. The appeal is to draw public attention to the sometimes even subtle violence against women in the private domain to fight against gender inequality. Rohini, our Correspondent asks her community to accept menstruation as a natural condition that does not pollute life, but is actually part of the cycle of life.

Related Links:

Rishi Panachami (Excerpts from Satsang of Pujya Bapuji)

Rishi Panchami (Bhadrapada shudhha Panchami)

Menstrual taboo (wiki)

Women hail menstruating ruling (BBC)

Violence against Women: harmful traditional and cultural practices in the Asian and Pacific region (UN ESCAP)

 

Article By Julia Lechner

As seen on Tehelka

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