Daksha’s first period was a happy one –a small ceremony with special offerings was done at the temple, at home, she was given sweets to eat and was told to rest. “At the time, I thought I might have done something good, having my periods!” recalls Daksha. But from the second period onwards, Daksha was doubtful that her periods were a good thing. She was treated as an outcaste, was refused a comfortable place to sit or sleep. More restrictions were soon enforced upon the girl to act like a girl, “I remember, I was once scolded for a small thing like laughing loudly,” she says.
There is a rising rhetoric across Urban India to challenge the deeply misogynistic and sexist taboos that continue to surround menstruation. Women have thronged metro cities such as Delhi, Bangalore and Mumbai in rallies, college students have posted messages on sanitary napkins and some of the age-old barriers against women in religious places have been shattered. These are indeed revolutionary steps taking towards achieving stigma-free equality for women.
But behind closed doors of their own homes, women and girls are often considered impure, contaminated, and dirty when they menstruate. Period-shaming is the gateway to the extreme forms of discrimination that millions of girls have experienced, and continue to experience across India. Make no mistake–this is not limited to any one class or community. Girls face exclusion, segregation, restrictions on movements and diet. Even to this day the stigma persists–we get sanitary products wrapped in newspapers or hidden in black plastic bags, advertisements feature blue liquids to represent blood and are women are expected to use all sorts of code words instead of ‘period’.
These restrictions perpetuate the culture of silence and feed shame and stigma, hampering the freedom of women. After all, it’s a natural bodily process. Why can we not be more matter of fact about it?