Menstrual flow - the blood that makes life

While menstrual-shaming has been a practice through all strata of society, it is time to think whether the life-giving flow is actually 'impure'.

 |  4-minute read |   06-01-2019
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They say that the ancient temples are constructed in ways that enable channelising all the positive energies in the temple complex. Apparently, a menstruating women’s entry into the complex could lead to an abatement of this energy.

Since I am not a physicist, I can neither experiment, nor comment on matters of energy and matter. However, I am a biologist, and topics around human pathophysiology and health interest me — as does menstruation. While once upon a time I would have been petrified at the sight of someone bruise with a hint of blood, things have now changed — thanks to understanding biology.

Human beings are created in a complicated, yet elegant way. Once you start thinking of the intricately designed cells — which form the organs and the organisms — you come to appreciate and respect the human body — or any living being's, for that matter. 

main_electral_010519070556.jpg'Impure'? The composition of the contents of this pack is very similar to that of period blood. (Source: Manu Smriti Singh)

Just like the brain imparts consciousness, the heart pumps blood and the kidneys remove waste, periods or menstruation serves an important biological purpose —when the female body prepares for pregnancy, it enriches the uterine lining with some very healthy stuff. This 'stuff' super-rich in nutrients comprises of electrolytes — sodium, potassium, chloride, calcium (think of Electral given during diarrhoea), a lot of blood — a new baby needs a lot of air and nutrients via blood cells — and some special proteins and cholesterol.

What does that imply?

So, all those men (and women) loathing menstruation should actually be thankful for the super-rich flow that helped their development as foetus into the ungrateful humans they have now become. The utterly irrelevant simile that our former minister of Human Resource Development, Smriti Irani, tried to conjure with 'blood-soaked napkin' is beyond my comprehension. 

If menstruating women are considered 'impure' just because they are carrying some rich tissue, then what about the rest of us who are carrying around a lot of faecal matter in our large intestines most of the time? 

Let us evaluate our 'impure' selves a little more. Scientist Giulia Enders writes in her book Gut: The Inside Story of Our Body's Most Underrated Organ, "Two or three times a day, the large intestine stirs from its slumbers and gives an enthusiastic shove to the concentrated food mush to push it forward." Yes, she is describing the biology behind our daily ritual — and very elegantly so. 

main_gut_010519070234.jpgScientist Giulia Enders very elegantly describes the biology behind our daily ritual. (Source: Manu Smriti Singh)

As for any energy-dense substance such as our bodily wastes, if they are left out in nature, bacteria and mushrooms devour them, gain nourishment and recycles these to be reused in some other form later. Therefore, personal hygiene and cleanliness is as important as the Swachch Bharat Mission.

So, dear ladies, please do not (if you ever do!) carry blood-soaked napkins in your purses, and rather discard them in the trash.

main_kamakhya-temple_010519053712.jpgIndian devotees pray at Kamakhya temple during the Ambubachi festival — the celebration of the annual menstruation course of the goddess — in Guwahati. (Source: AP)

If Kamakhya temple in Assam could celebrate and bow before the menstruating Kamakhya Devi, then logic demands that menstruating women should be allowed into temples. In fact, some reports suggest the entry of tribal women and children of all age groups into the Sabarimala temple until the 1960s — the more logical tribal people consider menstruation a symbol of fertility. The ban was introduced in 1991 — which restricted the entry of women in the age group of 10 and 50 years (or the menstruating age).

That, perhaps, powers the absurdity in Shashi Tharoor's comment— that to maintain the sanctity of the temple, 'any woman who believes in the legend of Lord Ayyappa in Sabarimala would not wish to worship there until she had turned 50'.

I can only hope that the menstruation-abhorrent-tribesmen could find this biology interesting one day.

I also hope that someday, they revere and become a little more compassionate to menstruating women who undergo pain and cramps each month for a considerable period of their lives.

After all, it is this periodic flow that is an elixir of life.

Also read: Cyclone Gaja did not kill a 12-year-old girl in Tamil Nadu. Regressive social systems did


Manu Smriti Singh Manu Smriti Singh @manu_smriti2

A researcher in department of Cancer Nanomedicine, Tel Aviv University

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