Periodically untouchableAt the age of 13, my idea about the menstrual cycle was simple. For me it was the transition from being a girl to being a woman; an undeniable beautiful transition, after which I hoped that I would be treated like an adult at my home.
At the age of 13, my idea about the menstrual cycle was simple. For me it was the transition from being a girl to being a woman; an undeniable beautiful transition, after which I hoped that I would be treated like an adult at my home. But, that dream shattered at the age of 14, when I had my first period and got a glimpse of the harsh reality that I would have to face every time I get my period: Untouchability.
In just a few minutes, I went from being a kanya—a figure of purity, a form of goddess—to an impure, untouchable woman at my own home. It was nerve-wracking, how I was treated worse than an animal when my natural, biological process knocked on the door for the very first time.
I was angry at myself. I felt a whirlwind of emotions like confusion, disgrace and rage and it was all too intense for me to figure out. It was all too much to take. When I questioned, “Why am I being treated like this?” The people around me had the audacity to tell me that it is our ‘tradition’; it is our ‘culture’.
In South India, Hindu girls who experience their menstruation for the first time are given presents. They have a celebration just to mark this special occasion. Buddhists across the world view menstruation as a ‘natural physical excretion that women have to go through on a monthly basis, nothing more or less’.
Guru Nanak, the founder of Sikhism, condemned the practice of treating women as impure while menstruating. He made it very clear to his followers that the menstrual cycle is a ‘god-given’ process.
There are many such examples where the biggest of spiritual and religious gurus have clearly mentioned that girls are not impure during their periods. Rather it is just an excuse, in the name of religion, to oppress women.
When I shared my knowledge on the taboo to my parents, they blamed me for being an atheist and causing unwanted trouble for them. Here’s the thing: I am not an atheist.
I believe in god. And I believe that god loves us and would not humiliate us.
There is a phrase in Manusmriti—a legal ancient text of Hinduism—that reads:
“Yatra naryastu pujyante ramante tatra devata?|
Yatraitastu na pujyante sarva statraphalakriya|”
It translates to: Divine lives in that house where women are respected. In a house where women are not respected, no good deed will add up to reap good results.
Why and for what reasons then is there this hypocrisy that surrounds menstruation? Why then are women shown utter disrespect during their most natural processes?
There is a familiar shloka:
swargadapi gariyasi—which translates to the mother and the birthplace are the sources of happiness that surpasses even the joys and luxuries of heaven.
My argument now is that isn’t menstruation where motherhood stems from? Doesn’t menstruation mark a girl’s ability to become a mother? Isn’t mother everything—a goddess of sorts? How then does menstruation make one impure and untouchable?
I am definitely not the only victim of the menstrual taboo. There are many examples around me that dishearten me on realising that I live in such a prejudiced society. If we don’t progress as a family or a community, how are we going to progress as a country?
Nepal is home to wonder-women like Pasang Lhamu Sherpa, Mira Rai, Jhamak Ghimire and Anuradha Koirala among others. It is such a shame that the very same country is also home to ignorance on menstrual health and hygiene alongside the taboo.
Yes, I am aware that what I go through during my period compares nothing to what girls in the rural villages go through. But, being an urban resident doesn’t come with any privilege when it comes to menstruation.
At 13, I was told that upon menstruating I was not supposed to see my father or the sun, and I was not supposed to touch any food or utensils. Entering kitchen would be as bad as stepping onto a minefield. I was confined to my room and the bathroom. I felt alienated and nobody even bothered to ask me how I felt about the whole situation.
I still cringe when I look back at the time. I was alone. I would cry all night, and cover my sniffles with my bare hands during the day. I was traumatised and I wished that no girl ever had to go through it.
I was beyond happy when my little sister had her first period in a hostel. After all, no girl in the world deserves to go through those feelings of insecurity and loneliness as she enters her womanhood.
It is high time to do everything possible to break the taboo that does nothing but develop inferiority complex in young girls. It is high time that we say ‘no’ to the malpractice of telling girls what to see, what to touch and where to sleep during menstruation. We are humans and we should be allowed to do what we wish to do.
Lamichhane is an A-Level student from Budhanilkantha School