Jhanvi is an 11-year old girl, living in Chandigarh. Her mother passed away when she was six, leaving her with her father. Yesterday, she started to bleed “from there”. She cannot discuss this with her father (and we call India an open society??) and is too scared, confused and embarrassed. She does not know what to do.

Menstruation is probably the biggest taboo in India. Even though this simple biological process is responsible for the life on Earth, we feel ashamed and awkward talking about it. Honestly, we’d rather watch a guy killing another one on TV but we must switch the channel the moment an advertisement for sanitary pads is shown.  And the myths surrounding menstruation transcend all cultures and religions. Let’s explore a few of them-

  • A menstruating woman is considered impure and is treated like filth without realising that she is only going through a natural biological process.
  • She is not allowed to enter a temple or kitchen. She is not allowed to wash her hair and it is widely believed that her touch will make food go bad. Even after every medical institution around the globe has quashed these beliefs, we continue to practise them with utmost dedication and faith.
  • The blood coming out from the body is considered impure. It is the normal blood coming out from her uterus lining as it ruptures. Getting a period is a part of a bigger process that gets the body ready for pregnancy – it is not the body rejecting “bad blood” or impurities. Actually, all the blood in the world, even that in men, has originated from menstrual blood. So, are you telling me that we all are impure and dirty??
  • It is believed that exercising during menstruation should be avoided. According to every gynaecologist in the world, exercising is actually beneficial as it helps with the menstrual cramps. The blood loss is only about 4 tablespoons. The rest you see is the discharge from the other tissues that make up the uterus lining. Consuming 360 milligrams of magnesium daily for 3 days till the day before the menstruation starts actually reduces menstrual pain and cramps.

So, there is nothing dirty about menstruation. For a woman, getting her period regularly is actually a sign of good reproductive health. The practices we subject our women to during menstruation are downright humiliating, unfair, unscientific and inhuman. Such practices were prevalent all across the globe, from Native America, Europe, Africa and Asia to Australia. All over the world, menstruation was considered a taboo. Now, these customs are found mainly in the under-developed and developing countries. When I try to seek reasons for these practices, I am told that all of these are written in our religious texts and we must not question God. Let’s see what our religions have to say about menstruation-

  • Christianity – According to the Bible, Jesus allowed Himself to be touched by a woman suffering from severe pain and bleeding (due to menstruation) and even cured her. (Mark 5:25-34)
  • Islam – Woman are not allowed to offer prayers or perform other religious activities. But according to the Quran, Prophet Mohammad encouraged menstruating women to attend the festive religious services for the two Eid holidays.
  • Hinduism - Women are not allowed to take part in the normal activities like cooking, worshipping etc. There is a description about Indra’s Braham-Hatya (killing of the Vritra) in the Rig Veda. It is said to be the reason behind the origin of menstruation in women. Even though the story is truly fascinating, it does not mention anything about women being prohibited to do certain things during menstruation. The concept of a connection between the menstrual cycle and the lunar cycle is again really interesting but it does not lay down any guidelines for menstruating women. In fact, no religious text prescribes any “Do’s and Don’ts” for menstruating women. The first text to put some restrictions on menstruating women was actually the Chanakya Niti. Frankly, following Chanakya’s views on menstruation is like asking Lionel Messi for advice about playing golf!! Even in Hinduism, you will find an exception in the form of Kashmiri Hindus. They do not consider women as impure during menstruation cycle. Menstruating women are given special care and are allowed to worship and visit temples. Women can perform all the household chores. People say that menstruating women should not go in the temples as they are impure and dirty. Let’s imagine a situation - Lord Krishna comes to his home after playing with his friends. His mother, Yashoda, runs towards him to hug him with love. Now, Krishna asks her to stop and says “Are you menstruating? If yes, you cannot touch me”. How does it sound?? If God Himself does not believe in all these superstitions, who are we to follow them in His name??
  • Sikhism- Women are given equal status to men and regarded as pure as a man is. The Gurus teach that one cannot be pure by simply washing his body, but the purity of mind is what counts (Ang 472, Siri Guru Granth Sahib Ji). Guru Nanak Sahab condemned the practice of treating menstruating women as impure. The Guru makes it very clear that menstruation cycle is a God-given process. The blood of a woman is required for the creation of any human being. Thus, the menstrual cycle is certainly an essential and God-given biological process. There is no way it can be impure or dirty (Pg 1013, Siri Guru Granth Sahib Ji). There are no restrictions on menstruating women and they are allowed to visit a Gurudwara, take part in the prayers and do seva.

Just one question – What religion are we following??

So, why must we stop these practices and eradicate the shame associated with menstruation? Poor menstrual hygiene causes infections, infertility, cancer and even death. This is a serious health issue, affecting half of the global population physically, mentally, psychologically and socially. Even the other half is deeply affected by it on various levels. When we portray a menstruating woman as impure, dirty, weak, and untouchable, a lot of men, on a subconscious-level,  start taking women as filthy, weak, bad, impure and an object which deserves to be dominated. This leads to a feeling of superiority and power among men and they try to justify the use of force and violence against women. According to me, this is the biggest reason for rapes, sexual violence and physical assaults. At the same time, the taboo around menstruation is also the biggest reason behind gender inequality in India and around the world.

Today, this article is my tribute to every woman around the world. They face discrimination and exploitation from all corners in addition to all these problems but continue to not only survive, but shine and grow in our patriarchal society. If we can talk about these issues, discuss them with an open mind, abolish the inhuman practices surrounding them and appreciate a woman for what she truly is, we will definitely take a huge stride towards a better tomorrow. And in doing all this, we will also be bringing a smile to Jhanvi’s face.

Published by Ankit Pareek