Period shaming in India is not new, but the fact that girls can be "punished" for menstruating, that too inside educational institutes, is indeed a matter of great shame.
Girl students of a residential school in Muzaffarnagar were reportedly stripped naked by a warden to “check for menstrual blood”. According to this report, around 70 students of Kasturba Gandhi Girls Residential School complained that the female warden asked them to take off their clothes and allegedly threatened them to punish if they disobeyed.
The inspection resulted after the warden spotted some blood stains in the bathroom. "The warden ordered us to remove our clothes. It was very humiliating for all of us. We want action against her,” one of the students was quoted as saying but the CNN-News18.
|Our society is still driven by the mindset that women turn impure during their periods. (Image credit: Facebook)
Although the allegations couldn't be verified independently, the incident once again brings to focus the prejudiced behaviour against menstrual blood and how it's used as a tool to exploit women — the fact that taboos and superstitions around menstruation still have firm roots in our society. It's really hard to believe that India, which takes immense pride in its culture and tradition, couldn't break the taboo even in the 21st century.
Recently, Kerala Congress leader MM Hassan said menstruation was impure and women should not enter places of worship during that time. He later sought to clarify that it was not his personal opinion and he had only stated the prevailing social situation in the society.
Our society is still driven by the mindset that women turn impure during their periods. And what is most disgusting is that the idea is so deep ingrained and the practice so ancient that even women themselves look at menstruation blood with aversion.
And just like all other obnoxious claims attaching scientific significance to Indian traditions, this custom too, the sanskari Indians believe, has "empirical" proof — menstrual blood is unhygienic which makes the women impure and untouchable during her monthly cycle.
A 2016 study by the Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS) revealed that eight out of 10 Indian girls are not allowed to enter religious shrines when they are on their period; six of 10 girls not allowed to touch food in the kitchen, and three of 10 are asked to sleep in a separate rooms (the study used data about 97,070 girls collected by 138 earlier studies on menstrual practices in India, between 2000 and 2015).
The same study, however, found, that adolescent girls have little access to menstrual hygiene.
The taboo around menstruation and poor health education are the basic reasons why Indian girls and women have little access to clean and affordable feminine hygiene products despite the fact that around 70 per cent of all reproductive diseases in India are caused by poor menstrual hygiene.
Union women and child development minister Maneka Gandhi recently wrote to finance minister Arun Jaitley asking him to provide 100 per cent tax exemption for eco-friendly and bio-degradable sanitary napkins, under GST.
Her letter came a day after Congress MP Sushmita Dev submitted a Change.org petition to Gandhi asking for abolition of the tax on sanitary pads as per GST.
"With the implementation of the GST, a step needs be taken by the central government to make sanitary napkins tax-free, like condoms and contraceptives, as it is an essential item which is a necessity for every woman," Dev said in her petition to Gandhi.
Gender rights activists feel restrictions imposed on women during their period are still so common that it an accepted social norm everywhere in India. Shockingly, the government too has never shown enough interest in breaking the taboo and making it a part of formal educational discourse. Boys and girls openly talking about it rather than shaming girls and making them feel guilty about their periods could be at least a step towards solution.
But it's not at all shocking that Indians have not been able to get rid of their anti-women prejudices and that's why menstrual superstitions exist in all regions and religions.
Something as natural as menstrual blood — yes, the process is as natural as eating, drinking, urinating, defecating and sleeping, and yet everyone loathe to talk about it — has been demonised to an extent that it's not just the poor and uneducated who are made to suffer, but even the empowered Indian women has not been spared.
Bollywood actress Kangana Ranaut faced a misogynistic attack when a relatively unknown actor Adhyayan Suman accused her of practicing black magic and adding her menstrual blood in his food.
While it's not difficult to see Suman's polluted mindset, but the accusations sadly reflect the entire society's ignorance about menstrual blood and how it collectively believes in discriminating women based on such abominable ideas.
The intolerance to menstrual blood runs deep and murky.