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There are many religious places in India, where women are barred from going because they are considered impure, for one reason- Women menstruate.
“It is only for your rest”, “hygiene is important and missing during that time” are statements women often hear when we talk about women and menstruation. But these statements don’t explain certain practices that prohibit women from entering places of worship and performing ceremonies.
Growing up, I often questioned mom about the reasons why I couldn’t do certain things during the monthly period. But she did not have answers or I was just not convinced by her answers. Over time, she has begun to ask these questions as well. Though she remains uncomfortable with mixing menstrual cycle and the temple.
Recently, it was in the news that a Maharashtrian temple “purified” an idol because a woman made an offering. In many temples, there are certain barricades around the idol where women are not allowed to enter. Additionally, women are not even allowed to undertake a journey to Sabrimala during the years when she menstruates. Like my friend jokes, religions are not discriminatory in this regard. Across religions we see practices that prohibit women to perform anything that is considered holy during the time.
Many women over the years have argued that the practices go beyond just menstrual taboos and disallowing women from entering places of worship. As Meena Kandasamy, writer and poet, said eloquently in a recent public Facebook post:
“I do not think that we stop merely with demanding entry into temples, or with fighting menstrual taboos. I personally feel that until we also need to demand the right of women to become temple priests–after all–if the gods are going to become dirty or distracted by our presence, it’s their problem. Denying women the right to priesthood also in a sense treats them en masse as a caste that cannot aspire for the right to be god’s intermediaries. And as fucked as the caste system, the treatment of women in the same way also needs to be done away with, side by side to our work to annihilate caste. Not only is this religious, but even the state-run buses do not take women on their Pampa buses during the pilgrim season—so what we see here is everyone upholding a heinous system.”
There have been campaigns and spontaneous movements that attempt to break these practices. The anti-superstitions activist, Narendra Dabholkhar campaigned against the gender discrimination that exists in temples in the state of Maharashtra. Happy to Bleed was the recent one that took the internet by a storm with women speaking up about menstruation. But I do believe the questions have to go deeper. There is only so much we can do within the home and our own personal lives. There are larger structures and systems at play; we need to come together to challenge the underlying notion of impurity and women as pollutants. We cannot shy away from it anymore.
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