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How does menstruation affect Indian Women in the 21st century?
Several years ago, I met an amazingly fierce woman named Scarlett Pragya, who was a student, a writer, a passionate soul who challenges and fights for things she believes in. The mere idea of her being in Australia, by herself, as a woman, was a ludicrous one in her Indian culture. She shares her personal story with us here:
"Being born as a female in India has never been easy. India has seen a time where a widow was burnt alive with her husband’s body under the practice ‘Sati’ because she was considered to have lost the meaning of her existence without her husband. As the time progressed, the challenges faced by Indian women changed in their nature and scope.
Gender discrimination goes long back in the history of India. It is so deep-rooted that many a times it goes unnoticed and the subjects of the discrimination do not even realize that they are being subjected to inequality and stereotypes. The various forms that social bigotry towards girls can take are –
a) Girls are made to learn cooking from an early age. b) Girls are denied the equal education rights. c) Girls suffer due to the social taboo attached to menstruation.
d) Women are expected to do household chores. e) Women mostly get no say in whom and when they want to marry. f) Wives are expected to be submissive and dutiful to their husbands
Millions of young girls suffer pain and inconvenience because of the unsympathetic restrictions imposed upon them when they are having ‘those days’ i.e. when they are menstruating. Indian culture is piled with innumerable myths and misconceptions about the regular phenomenon of menstruation where they believe it to be something very ‘dirty’ and ‘impure’.
Little girls of 12 or 13 years of age are branded as ‘impure’ by their own families, and menstruation becomes a lifelong adversary. Phrases such as ‘Don’t walk like that’, ‘Don’t speak about those things’, ‘Don’t go to the kitchen’, ‘Don’t pray’ are bombarded from every direction. 23% of Indian girls leave school forever when they hit their first menstrual cycle. Girls are literally forced to live a life of untouchables when they are menstruating and because of the extreme taboo attached to it, they are mostly not educated about hygiene and taking care of themselves during their menstruation. Around 88% of Indian females use old reusable cloths, dried leaves, newspapers etc. for absorption when they menstruate which causes severe consequences on their reproductive health.
I have my own personal experiences of pain and suffering that I underwent because of mistaken beliefs around the subject carried by my family. I was never allowed to enter any place of worship or touch things in kitchen, especially water. I was made to wake up at sunrise and take bath in cold water to get rid of my impurity. The rule in my house was that the males of the house should not come to know that you are on your periods. Sometimes my father would ask me to fetch him a glass of water during my menstrual cycle, and that would put me in a very difficult situation. I couldn’t deny him and neither could I tell him that I am not allowed to touch water container since I am menstruating. The best idea of escape that I could think of was disappearing from home for at least half an hour so that either my dad gets water by himself or asks someone else. Sometimes my dad would remember how I didn’t care to address his little request of getting him a glass of water and scold me for that. I would just look at my mother with teary eyes hoping that she would say something in my defense but she never did.
Not just physical health, the menstruation taboo brings a great deal of impact on emotional and mental health of girls. Sadly, it’s just not the rural regions where it is practiced; the well educated and developed areas of India are too under this nonsensical trap."