If there’s one lesson inherent in the rich histories of human societies, it’s that mankind always seems to gravitate towards any opportunity of keeping its own kind on a short leash. It’s always freedom that needs to be fought for. The social stigmatization and rigorous rituals associated with menstruation, has made this natural monthly cycle a harrowing one, specially for several Indian women.
The taboos and rituals around Menstruation for Indian women
The specifics of the social practices revolving around menstruation vary across regions and religions, but the prominent reasoning of ‘impurity’ used to justify the numerous restrictions that welcome a girl’s inception into womanhood, is common to most or all of them.
Rituals at the onset of Menstruation
In North India, the onset of menstruation is followed by a range of rituals quietly introduced by the female adults. The menstruating girl is ‘shielded’ from the sight of men and children, prohibited from touching hot and cold food and standing on cold water.
Within the circle of Assamese Hindus, the most visible practice is ‘Tulani Biya’, also known as ‘Xoru Biya’ (‘Xoru’ meaning small, ‘Biya’ meaning marriage). A girl’s onset of menarche is thus, celebrated like a mini-marriage, accompanied by similar restrictions.
In Tamil Nadu, Menstrual rituals are segmented into ‘manjal-neer-attu-vizha’, ‘puniya-tharam’ and ‘sa thunga’. The first is a turmeric bathing ceremony performed at the onset, followed by grand feasts and showering of gifts on the girl. In Dravidian cultures, these rituals celebrating the inception into womanhood, are devoid of negative connotations and instead symbolize new life, prosperity and blessings.
Life gets harder after start of menstruation for Indian women
Indian women soon come to realise that restrictions at the onset had merely been the tip of the iceberg. Every monthly period she’s meted by a treatment that can be deemed equivalent to treatment that had been meted to the so-called ‘untouchable’ community. She has to sleep separately, eat separately, keep away from religious functions, etc.
The theories of origins of these taboos:
The theories of origins linked to the various taboos associated with menstruation have proven that for humanity, the sky’s the limit when it comes to distortion of ideas and beliefs. These debunk the ‘impurity’ notion popular today.
Separation & Seclusion:
As is still prevalent in some interiors of the country, the practice of confining menstruating women to seclusion houses away from the community has its roots in the self-preservation instinct. The potential danger of animals catching the scent of blood and the consequent threat of the entire community being wiped off, is what gave birth to the taboo.
Denial of religious ceremonies, community feasts due to menstruation
With regard to denial into temples, exclusion from religious ceremonies, etc.; there’s a lot of spiritual science arguments involved, much of whose validity remains uncertain, but are nevertheless, worth discussing.
For instance, it was believed that women during the period phase, unconsciously experience an enhanced energy absorbing power, which means that they need to be protected from the omnipresent dissipation of negative energy that is to be found in any kind of gathering.
Views of scholars:
Most scholars are of the opinion that the popular notion of impurity originated in medieval times when this was a means used by upper-class male priests for the consolidation of a patriarchal society.
The multi-level impact on Indian women
Menstruation being a hush-hush topic in India has grave implications as numerous studies have shown. The gravity of this problem can be grasped from the words of Durga Prasad Gurve, an activist from Uttarakhand-
“In conservative rural India, women feel so ashamed about menstruation that they don’t dry the cloth in the sun. They wash it, often not very well, and just stuff the used cloth in some corner where no one can see it. Often, this leads to serious infections.”
Beyond physical health, the social stigma and taboos has a monumental negative impact on some women’s psychology, as they come to perceive themselves as impure and inferior. This is complemented by deprivation of opportunities as particularly in rural India, the nature of the taboos makes it near impossible for women to compete on a level playing field.
History has shown that reason has always triumphed over myth and at the heart of every righteous victory, the power of reason has radiated from the voices of the worst sufferers. #Happytobleed is one example that women have learnt this lesson and are now putting it to use.