Custom Search

The Taboo of Menstruation in India

by Mihir Bhatt
(Delhi, India)

Menstruation or period is a natural biological process that all girls and women go through every month for about half of their life because the survival and spread of our species depend on it. Still, it is considered taboo or impure in India.

Even today, when India is progressing towards modernity, women in urban and rural areas are discriminated against during the periods and are treated as untouchables in their own homes where they are not allowed to enter the kitchen or go to any religious places during the four to five days of the month. Many women are even forced to follow certain absurd rules and practices during the period. Periods are believed to be a bad omen and hence women are not allowed to celebrate festivals or attend functions like weddings. Not only do the women follow these meaningless practices, but they also force their daughters and daughters-in-law to do the same, regardless of their wealth or educational qualifications.

Because of a lack of proper awareness and education, many young girls are ashamed of their periods and hence they lack the basic knowledge about menstruation, sanitation, and hygiene. Sadly, this is the case with many women too! Periods are nature's gift to women, but they are not impure. They are a sign of fertility, tolerance, and power. Condemning menstruation is condemning the very process of life and birth.

Research from various parts of India shows that 3 in every 10 girls are unaware of their period when they first start their menstrual cycle. And in some parts of Rajasthan, the number of girls reaches 9 out of 10, without even knowing it. Most of the girls did not know about periods at the time of their first menstruation thought that they have got blood cancer and they're going to die soon. Another important issue in which a woman needs to understand is the risk factor for reproductive tract infections associated with periods. But in India, only 12% of girls and women have access to hygienic methods for controlling the menstrual cycle. About 88% of girls and women use unsanitary methods to control their periods. Some theorists link the taboo to psychological ‘reproductive envy’ experienced by men, while others hypothesize the taboos originated from the uncontrollable nature of menstrual excretion.

Many theorists share the view that menstrual taboos originate in male-dominated societies that seek to subjugate women. When society frames a mundane biological process as one of its
biggest taboos, it restricts women’s access to education and limits their mobility. And that is exactly why these narratives continue to be perpetuated so widely. In patriarchal societies, punishing women for their body functions continues to be a powerful way to hold them back which is followed by social restrictions that are imposed upon them. During the time of their monthly periods, girls are not allowed to touch or eat pickles or to sit on the sofa or some other family member's bed. They are expected to eat and wash their dishes separately. They are not allowed to bathe during their period, and in some homes, they are even isolated from other family members. About 85% of girls and women in India will have to follow one or more menstrual taboos or conservative customs each month. In their homes, they are considered impure; they are forbidden to worship or touch any objects of religious importance. There are signposts outside temples denying the entry of menstruating girls and women.

Ironically, in most cases, older women place such restrictions on young girls in the family. After all, they are used to accepting these restrictions as the norm. And in the absence of any interference, this is a myth and a misconception that is passed down from generation to generation. This affects the self-esteem and self-confidence of a young girl. The psychological trauma affects their character, academic performance, and all aspects of development in the early years of their formation. However, in the last few decades, there has been an attempt to de-stigmatize periods in India, with awareness campaigns, heavily funded surveys, and even a mainstream Bollywood movie on menstrual hygiene. And yet, in 2021, the highest court of the country is just beginning to hear petitions about religious institutions barring women’s access based on their ‘impurity.'

Challenging the mindset of periods being dirty is not just about access to menstrual hygiene and changing the color of blood in ads’. It is about understanding the structural discrimination and shame that this notion of ‘periods’ perpetuates. Therefore, it is imperative to remove this unspoken ban on periods and let's educate others to do the same all that it requires is just a change of thought. A period is a birth right and not something to be guilty about or to be considered as prejudiced against menstruation in spirituality especially in India. Thus, to every woman in society, be proud and always love yourself.


Click here to post comments

Return to Perspective.