Menstruation: An Indian Taboo
Menstruation has been a traditional taboo in Indian cultures, and to this day, families differ in how they treat those who get their period. Due to this taboo that exists within a patriarchal society, women in India are not as educated regarding puberty and their reproductive health and they have less access to sanitary necessities, like pads and tampons. They often have to supplement those items with cloth and other products that they aren’t able to wash and dry properly.
When a cis woman is menstruating, there can be a lot of restrictions and regulations on what she can or cannot do.
Women are often not allowed to:
Touch other members of the family or hand things directly to them. They would have to set objects down if they wanted to pass on something.
Enter temples or perform any holy rituals, since they are seen as ‘impure’
Cook or go into the kitchen
Discuss with any male elders
In general, they are seen as untouchable and women have to be discreet and attempt to hide their period. When women go to get supplies, they’re often met with disgusted looks from other men. Stores that sell sanitary items sometimes wrap them up in newspaper and cover it with black polythene. Even washing has to be subtle, and women usually have to store their clothing and supplies in unhygienic places so that no one finds them.
On the flip side of this taboo, some families actually see menstruation as auspicious. Girls are so pure that they are worshipped as a living goddess and they have rituals performed on them. Especially for those who are new to the topic of menstruation in India, this can be confusing, as treatment can differ so greatly depending on familial views. One family could be very modern about menstruation, while another could strictly follow traditional customs. Unfortunately, tradition makes those who experience periods feel abnormal for a completely natural thing.
Late in 2018, the Indian supreme court ruled against the centuries-old ban on women of menstruating age entering temples during their period. This seemed to be the start of a new era, yet this decision faced a lot of backlash by men and religious groups and they violently attacked women who tried to enter. Women have continued to revolt against these traditions. In 2019, two women snuck into the Sabarimala Temple. They were the first women in centuries (or ever) under the age of 50 who went on this pilgrimage. This did face backlash from many religious conservatives, who wanted to hold true to their faith and tradition.
Times are still changing, and the government, along with mainstream sources, is trying to increase awareness regarding menstruation in India. Women shouldn’t have to be forced under the strict structures of a patriarchal society. Conversations about menstrual health should be normalized and everyone deserves to have the proper items to ensure they’re maintaining their hygiene and safety.
Writer - Jasmine Kwok
Editor - Priyam Kusundal
Graphics - Jhem Picache