When I attained puberty at age thirteen, I was isolated to a room for eleven days. Other parts of the house were off limits and I was to eat only from a silver plate. To increase my blood flow, I was given a sesame filled sweet. The coming of age tradition has good components. A sweet made of urad dal is given to girls during their first cycle as it has plenty of iron content. Apart from these good components, the ritual is very overwhelming for the girl as there are all these people whom you have never met gathered to celebrate your first period. Having said that, there are girls who live for this kind of attention and opulence. I am not one of them.
My family conducted a small ceremony presided over by a temple priest. I was garlanded; made to sit on a small stool, the womenfolk took turns to smear my cheeks with turmeric and bless me with raw rice mixed with turmeric. The priest performed a ritual that was to purify and bless the whole family. The ceremony was followed by food for everyone in attendance – aunts, uncles, kids- old and young, and many other people whom I had never known. The humiliation I felt had reached its zenith.
It is the year 2017 and menstruation remains an unmentionable/offensive word. When I buy sanitary pads, the cashier at the pharmacy consciously chooses a black plastic bag to conceal its identity. Many girls I have come across have expressed to me that they are ‘unwell’ instead of directly stating that they have their ‘period’.
Girls and women are generally subject to many restrictions while menstruating. As per my knowledge, some of them include –
- The blatant and number one restriction – prohibition from entering places of worship, including the one at home and one can only do so after the passing of three/ five days from the start of the period.
- Although I have not been subject to it, the kitchen area of the house is forbidden and therefore the woman cannot cook during her cycle.
- For the purpose of cleanliness, the woman has to wash her hair on the first and third day of her period.
Apart from these restrictions, rural women make use of cloth as they cannot afford sanitary pads and that makes me extremely sad. The twelve percent tax on sanitary pads under the new GST scheme is being criticised and rightly so. When did we make sanitary pads a luxury to a few privileged women? In addition, commercial establishments are not built to suit a women’s needs. How often do we find toilets with a sanitary pad dispenser?