By Mehar Chowdhry

(27/06/2020 19:30IST)

Menstruation or period is vaginal bleeding that occurs as a part of woman’s monthly cycle. Periods usually start between the age of 11 and 14 and continue until menopause at about the age of 51. They usually last for 3-5 days.

Menstruation or periods is a very natural phenomenon that occurs, but in India and in many parts of the world it is still considered a taboo and a stigma. A mere mentioning of the word ‘period’ causes shame on even the literate faces of the country and this is going on since forever.

The history of menstruation or to why women bleed leads us to take a look at the Hindu mythology which says that Indra Dev (the god of rain) used to serve a sage day and night. But the sage’s mother was an asur (demon) and Indra was unaware of this fact. So when he came to know about it he killed the sage but that created more problem for him as the sage was a brahaman (upper caste in Hindus) and killing a brahaman is a crime. Indra Dev got scared and to ask for forgiveness he prayed to Lord Vishnu (the preserver God). After a year Lord Vishnu appeared to say that he would only be forgiven if he divides the burden of his crime between trees, water, earth and women and also give them a blessing in return, so; one-fourth of the curse was given to trees and in return they were blessed to re-grow and regain their life whenever they want. One-fourth of the curse was given to the water and in return it was blessed to purify other beings. One-fourth of the curse was given to earth and in return it was blessed the power of healing and lastly, one-fourth of the curse was given to women which was in the form of menstrual cycle or periods and in return they were given the blessing of bearing a new life inside them, making them superior than men.

So basically cursing women to have periods, wasn’t actually a curse. It turned out to be a blessing as women could bear a life inside her. But then why menstruating women are said to be impure and why menstruation was and still is a taboo? These taboos are purely baseless, illogical and they moreover ridicule the dignity of a woman. Let us have a look at some of them:

# Menstruating women are said to be impure and dirty and so they are not allowed to at sacred places such as temples as their impurity will spread there and will make the place “uholy”.

# A menstruating woman is not allowed to touch or eat pickle as it will spoil the pickle and woman will also become infertile.

# In some rural areas, women still use rags and dry leaf when they are menstruating because of the myth that pads will make them infertile or they don’t even know what is a pad.

# Making separate huts for menstruating women in the villages of Assam is still prevalent today. Menstruating women are asked to confine themselves in those huts during those 3-5 days.

There are many more such baseless rituals and taboos not only in India but all over the world for a phenomenon as natural as periods. Probably some of us are thinking that these rituals are very small and what’s the harm in following them? Well, these little practices cause both physical and emotional disturbance to a menstruating woman, hindering her dignity too. During periods, women are induced to have mood swings, cramps and continuous flow of blood (in some cases it’s very severe) and when such taboos are asked to be done by them it creates an emotional imbalance among them. So how can we stop these ill- practices to happen?

The first and foremost strategy in this regard is raising the awareness among the adolescent girls related to menstrual health and hygiene. Young girls often grow up with limited knowledge of menstruation because their mothers and other women shy away from discussing the issues with them. Adult women may themselves not be aware of the biological facts or good hygienic practices, instead passing on cultural taboos and restrictions to be observed. Community based health education campaigns could prove worthwhile in achieving this task. There is also need to spread awareness among the school teachers regarding menstruation. Increasing the education status of women plays an important role in improving the health status of the community at large and overcoming the cultural taboos, in particular. Provision of sanitary napkins and adequate facilities for sanitation and washing should be made available with the gender perspective. In Delhi, there are an estimated 132 public toilets for women, only 8% the number of the 1534 for men. Low cost sanitary napkins can be locally made and distributed particularly in rural and slum areas as these are the areas where access to the product is difficult. Government of India has approved a scheme to improve menstrual hygiene for 1.5 Crore adolescent girls by distributing low cost sanitary napkins in rural areas under the National Rural Health Mission since 2010. However, the scheme is in the pilot phase, and a lot more needs to achieve in this regard. Men and boys typically know even less, but it is important for them to understand menstruation so they can support their wives, daughters, mothers, students, employees, and peers. Menstruation is nothing but a very normal biological phenomenon, and adolescent girls and women should understand that they have the power of procreation only because of this virtue.


About Authors.

Mehar Chowdhry

Desk Editor


  • Peronal observations and analysis
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