Menstruation, Impurity and Oppression
By Byomakesha Kumar Singh
“When men are oppressed, it is tragedy,
When women are oppressed, it is tradition”
Menstruation is a biologically speaking a part of women’s reproductive cycle wherein blood from the uterus exits through vagina. It is an indicator of puberty in girls. However, this indicator is looked down upon in our country socially and culturally. Culturally speaking, it is considered to be a myth since the Vedic times. For, it has been declared in the Veda that guilt, of killing a brahmana-murder, appears every month as menstrual flow as women had taken upon themselves a part of Indra's guilt. Furthermore, in Hindu faith, menstruating women are not allowed to take part in various chores of life, such as performing a puja, touching holy books, entering the kitchen, etc. Sometimes, this happens on a large scale such as the recent issue of Sabrimala temple where menstruating women were not allowed to enter. The underlying basis for this is the myth and taboos which surrounds a menstruating woman. She is considered to be impure. That’s not all, women are forced to things which are beyond reasonability. There are dietary restrictions such as eating sour food like curd since it is believed that it can stop this cycle, staying away from home and living in a place elsewhere. A woman recently died of inhaling chimney smoke when she was forced to live out of her house during her menstrual cycle. Many women, rather than using sanitary pads, use dirty clothes, which can cause risk to their health. About 77% of menstruating girls and women in India use an old cloth, which is often reused. Further, 88% of women in India sometimes resort to using ashes, newspapers, dried leaves and husk sand to aid absorption. Not allowing her to bath can lead to infections in her reproductive tract.
However, scientifically speaking it is known that the actual cause of menstruation is ovulation followed by missed chance of pregnancy that results in bleeding from the endometrial vessels and is followed by preparation of the next cycle. Therefore, there seems no reason for this notion to persist that menstruating women are “impure.”
Legally speaking, discriminating a woman solely on the basis of this cycle is against the principles of equality and Article 14 of the Indian Constitution. Feminist jurisprudence, too, considers it to be inequality. A woman, like any other man has the right to do the same thing. Just because she is suffering from a particular phase does not entitle anyone to debar her or not allow to do something which our Constitution allows her to do.
The next question is what could be done?
There are myriad of things which can be done. People should be made aware that this cycle is not a myth but a biological process. Government can start many awareness campaigns for the same. Education is another important factor which cannot be ignored. People, especially in the rural background should be properly educated. Elderly women shy away to talk about the same with adolescent girls and that is the reason they grow up with limited knowledge. This is nothing but due to illiteracy among people. The concept of school teachers should be made clear. We do not need school teachers like the professor of Jadavpur University who termed virginity of a woman as “a sealed bottle.” What can also be done is to empower women, particularly, allowing them to be a part of decision-making process. Low level of literacy among the women debars them in being empowered. Low cost sanitary napkins should be provided in the slums and rural area. Adolescent Friendly Health Services Clinics must also have trained manpower to address these issues. Government of India has approved a scheme to improve menstrual hygiene for 1.5 Crore adolescent girls by distributing low cost sanitary napkins in rural areas under the National Rural Health Mission since 2010. However, a lot needs to be done.
Thus, it is crystal clear that what we need is multi-sectoral approaches. There is a need to link physical infrastructure and water and sanitation projects to health education and reproductive health programs and address the issue in more holistic ways. We are living in 21st century and these types of myths and taboos are to archaic. A country where Goddesses are revered, women are being ill treated. Isn’t it ironical and paradoxical? Orthodox patriarchy must be done away with. Women need to break the shackles of their bondage. Menstruation is nothing but a very normal biological phenomenon, and adolescent girls and women should understand that they have the power of procreation only because of this virtue.
 Chawla J, Matrika The Mythic Origins of the Menstrual Taboo in the Rig Veda. 1992. [Last accessed on 2019 January 20]. Available from: http://www.matrika-india.org/Research/MythicOrigins.html
 SOS Childrens’ Village. Social taboos damage the health of girls and women. 2014. [Last accessed on 2019 Jan 20]. Available from: http://www.soschildrensvillages.org.uk/news/blog/social-taboos-damage-the-health-of-girls-and-women .