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How My Menstruation Ceremony Scarred Me For Life

Posted: January 13, 2017
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In many parts of India, parents have a menstruation ceremony to announce a girl’s fertility. But the practice is not exactly period-positive.

I was 13 when I got my first period. Since talking about periods is blasphemy, my mother never prepared me for it. When ‘it’ finally happened, I was shocked and curious. But instead of answering my questions, I was told that there will be a menstruation ceremony to celebrate the ‘milestone’.

Before I could understand what was happening to me, my parents started inviting relatives and friends to a menstruation ceremony. The interesting thing about the menstruation ceremony was that nobody used the words ‘period’ or ‘menstruation’. Instead, people had a code word: Everybody said I was now ‘mature’.

I was decorated from head to toe with ornaments like a bride. Men and women would bless me and I had to look happy throughout the ceremony.

This might sound like a period-positive party but I felt ashamed. I was also confused because of the contradictory messages given by my parents and the society. On one hand, my mother would talk about pads and menstrual blood in hushed tones but on the other hand, my fertility was celebrated publicly. I had to hide pads and period stains but my extended family and friends had to know that I had started menstruating. While my puberty was celebrated, I was forbidden from touching any idols of Gods and Goddesses or entering the puja room.

Nobody asked me if I wanted to be a part of the event but they told me that I was now a ‘grown up’. Is my menstruation cycle a private thing? Or is it a public thing?

It is only now that I realize that the foundation of the ceremony was patriarchal. The event was not to celebrate periods but to tell the world that I can ‘produce’ babies. It was also a signal that my parents, my relatives and the society had a right over my body and its processes. I was ‘mature’ but the decisions about the milestones in my life and whether or not I should be celebrating them were still taken by my parents.

Society wanted me to believe that my worth as a woman is dependent on motherhood and it was preparing me for the role of the mother. I also realized that society was not exactly disgusted with the idea of me having periods (the celebration was the proof of this).

The stigma around menstruation is, in fact, a strategy to shame women. Society is okay with men urinating in open but only when it comes to menstrual blood does society starts worrying about ‘hygiene’.

The ceremony made me feel powerless and I developed a menstruation phobia. Thinking about it still gives me nightmares but thanks to numerous period-positive campaigns on social media and feminist literature, I’m trying to look at menstruation without fear and shame.

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  1. Hi Sushmita! Gosh! This is quite an interesting post and an eye opener too!! It’s really weird how society has come to accept many contradictions in logic and even normalised them as you’ve pointed out so well. The part about men urinating in public is so true. We should be naming or labelling them of “loose character” and “impure” too as they “expose” themselves and skin AND “defile and pollute” public spaces with their unhygienic waste!!! Why do we accept that in our so called “Great Indian society and tradition of high values”? As far as ceremonies are concerned- in the old days when girls got married as soon as they attained puberty – celebrating menstruation was a mechanism for announcing that a girl was eligible to be a bride. It makes no sense at all to hold onto this ritual when we have moved away from child marriages. Secondly, if the outcome of these ceremonies is that after them, the freedom of the girl and her control over decision making are furthermore curtailed; she is burdened with expectations of maturity in thought and actions; she has greater responsibilities thrust upon her -to learn to cook or clean etc. Why then is the boy’s attaining maturity not announced or celebrated? Is it because they never “grow up” or are they not expected to? OR is it to facilitate the eternal and indefinite freedom of the male to be childish and irresponsible and not be under controls that girls are kept under? Is this not where the cunning discrimination, exploitation and subjugation by the patriarchy starts ? Are not mothers of girls too responsible for perpetuating the same discrimination by being party to these ceremonies? This is where our education must play a role in helping us use logic and reasoning in our thought and actions, rather than only helping us secure jobs and earn incomes. It is very good that you have broken down these traditions and recognised the flawed logic in them. We all must do the same in all aspects of our life and living and reject those customs and traditions that don’t add up anymore or never have made any sense at all or serve only to perpetuate discrimination and disadvantages. Only then can we (especially as women)have more control over our lives and we may lead more wholesome lives based on rational and logical decision making processes.

    • Sushmita Rao

      Hi, Sonia!

      Thank you for the comment. You are right…educated women must say no to such practices. Unfortunately, there is huge pressure from family members. The risk of defying traditions is high and hence, very few protest against such ceremonies. I hope the next generation doesn’t have to put up with such customs.

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