The Stain On My Skirt
It was a lazy January afternoon in an all girls’ school. The last lecture for the day was on and it unfortunately was a history lesson. As expected attention meandered, for which 13 year old on planet Earth wants to know why the Bulund Darwaza was built in the middle of nowhere. There were the studious ones trying their utmost to look interested while most had given up the pretence and were looking at their watches and out of the windows waiting for the bell to toll, so they could just get back home. Suddenly, the monotony of Mughal rule in India was broken by whisperings and nudgings. A silent uprising that passed from bench to bench till it reached the teacher. Further investigation revealed that a classmate had been visited by the curse, her first, and had STAINED HER SKIRT. The entire class of VI A craned their necks to look at the offending creature and at the stain as she walked the walk of shame. And that was my first brush with the curse of Indra, also called periods, chums, monthlies, menses, moon time, a visit from auntie flo, or menstruation.
Since that sleepy January afternoon, I too have walked the walk of shame umpteen times. Daag Achche Hain (stains are good), might have worked wonders for surf excel but no woman in her right mind would ever endorse that line. We live in mortal fear of staining. “Dekh na, stain nahi lagana” (check whether I have stained) is a universal question asked by and to every woman by every woman. In India, menstruation as a topic is so taboo, it’s laughable. For aren’t we the second most populous nation in the world, soon to overtake China in the race, and population=childbirth=menstruation. Going by those parameters, shouldn’t periods be dominating conversations, instead of being buried like deep dark secrets. But alas, most Indians believe that women should not enter temples, kitchens, water plants, touch newborn babies or pickles or milk, are unclean, dirty and shed germs when they are afflicted by their monthlies. Buying a sanitary napkin at a chemist shop in India is a traumatic experience. The person at the counter gives you a look over, fetches the offending item, surreptitiously wraps it up in a newspaper or a black opaque plastic bag, and thrusts it in your hands as if it were a live grenade. No wonder that even now, when we can send a rover to Mars, 70 girls in a hostel in Bhuj was asked to remove their clothing to prove to the headmistress that they weren’t menstruating. This episode occurred after the principal received complaints about students breaking menstrual norms. What were these norms? The age-old “kitchen mein nahi jaana and kissi cheez ko haath mat lagana.” In 2015, Instagram removed poet Rupi Kaur’s post twice, because it showed a stained bedsheet and soiled pants. Breasts allowed, porn allowed, menstrual blood is cheeee! Even Bollywood, that all-pervasive Indian entity, refuses to acknowledge that women “Chum”, for which mainstream movie, apart from Padman, has ever mentioned the P-word. Everything’s just swept under the carpet. Like the discomfort women experience, it is considerably higher than “the not being able to wear whites” problem shown in most sanitary napkin ads. Scores of women feel bloated, nauseated, pukey, weepy, and get unbearable cramps. And, dear advertisers, you may use blue to avoid upsetting delicate sensibilities, but the blood we shed isn’t blue!
Menstruation is basic biology. It ensures that toxins get eliminated from the female body and perpetuates human existence. It’s nothing to be ashamed of and is as natural as eating, sleeping, breathing or peeing. Would we ever ostracize people for eating? Would we ever lock them up in a room for going to the loo? Would you tell someone to not enter the kitchen for they are breathing? No, you wouldn’t! But somehow all the rationale and logic takes a hike when it comes down to this.
The year is 2020, and yesterday was menstrual hygiene day (Yes, We have one of those!) and we need it; for around 23 million girls drop out of school each year as they start their periods. Lack of awareness makes for a major problem in India’s menstrual hygiene scenario. Indian Council for Medical Research’s 2011-12 report stated that only 38 per cent menstruating girls in India spoke to their mothers about menstruation, largely due to the stigma attached. Many mothers were themselves unaware what menstruation was or how it was to be explained to a teenager and what practices could be considered to allow them to lead a normal life. We need to have dialogues about periods, about flow, about sex and about how a girl changes as reaches puberty.
Yes, the conversation around this topic has begun, and must continue till it permeates every thick skull, and removes every taboo there is. Progress has been made, but there are miles to go before we can say we’ve reached. A long way before women can turn around and say, Daag Achche Hain (Stains are good)!
Featured image: The Swaddle