I got my first period when I was eleven. I was very young when I had hit puberty. I had no clue what was going on with me but thankfully my mom got me through it. She was my biggest support in this crucial time when my body was going through such important changes. I don’t know how she knew, but she knew it when I got it just by looking at me. She taught me how to use a sanitary napkin and how to dispose it. However, she told me to be very discrete about it. No one should know, it shouldn’t be discussed with anyone, she said. Following my mother’s orders, for three, four days, I acted as if I was secretly holding classified information.
Now that I’ve grown up, I just cannot fathom why I was told to hide something no short of nature’s miracle happening inside of me, when I was growing up to be the woman I am now. Over the years, I gathered that having your menstrual period was supposed to be a private matter expected to be kept only to yourself. However, I grew up in an all-girls’ school and it couldn’t possibly be kept a secret there. We discussed everything – from dates to cramps, and asked each other if there was that dreaded visible spot on the skirt.
Menstruation is a taboo topic in India, which I am sure every Indian would be aware of. It is not something that is usually spoken about among family members, particularly the male population constituting even your one’s father and brothers. Even during a period when the entire family is busy enjoying a Sunday movie, an advertisement of a sanitary pad makes everyone uncomfortable. Even going to a pharmacy in a market and asking for a particular brand of sanitary product, becomes a humungous task, although now of course I have mastered that art over the years.
Girls have to encounter an unlimited array of dos and don’ts when they reach their pubertal age. You cannot visit a temple or any other religious ceremony or function. You cannot enter the kitchen. You cannot go out of the house, work or play. Even eating a pickle is forbidden during those days of the month. Why? Because apparently, she is ‘impure’ during her periods. Well, this made sense a century ago when there were no sanitary pads or tampons and all that one could use were cotton or cloth sheets or make-do napkins perhaps. Surely, it would have been highly uncomfortable and unhygienic. On the other hand, what about the present, when so many hygiene products are available with different sizes and features, even different ones for different times of the day?
I grew up to become a Biology student and have always had great interest in the physiology of the human body. I learnt all about the different stages of the menstrual cycle and what goes on inside of the uterus of female homo sapiens. At the end, all l could conclude with was that menstruation is no different than any other normal physiological function like that of digestion or respiration . Why then is it treated so differently? Well, largely because many people do not understand it. Our male counterparts in particular have barely or never been introduced to this topic. So since they are the decision-making authorities of many households, they have felt that it is convenient to burrow something like this right under a pothole filled with rules.
But why are women still supporting this even after being aware of the entire situation? Once, our family was visiting a temple and my aunt asked a cousin of mine to wait outside till they come back just because she was going through one of her ‘impure days’! It thought this was completely bizarre and brought up the issue with my mother. All she said was that to each his own, but that I was never to follow these baseless laws and could do whatever I wanted to and go wherever I had to during my periods. Period days, she said, were to be treated just as any other. That’s what it should be. Sure, these days are slightly physically constraining but several periods later, I was extremely used to it. I would go play, study, or do anything that was planned as usual.
What we need to advocate is that menstruation is the most natural thing on the planet. It’s almost next to a miracle that our body experiences – a miracle of life. Every person needs to understand that it needs to be respected and every woman going through it needs to be respected and cared for. Every father, brother and husband should be aware of the entire gamut of physiological or emotional changes that the women closest to them undergo every month. The taboo surrounding these few miraculous days needs to be uprooted right from their deepest roots. This is because the truth remains, that if not for menstruation, the human race might really cease to exist.
Author: Ananya Mathur
Ananya is studying biomedical engineering from Amity University. She has a keen interest in life sciences, and biology is her passion. She is a budding blog writer and wishes to touch topics which are relevant to the modern Indian women.
Edited by – Divya Rosaline