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A college run by the followers of the Swaminarayan Mandir in Bhuj recently forced 68 girl students in the hostel remove their panties to check if they were on periods, and hence ‘impure’.
Recently, in Shri Sahjanand Girls’ Institute (SSGI) in Bhuj, 68 girls were forced to remove their undergarments to prove that they weren’t menstruating. This happened after the rector of the college suspected that some of them had moved into the kitchen and/or temple area of their hostel, which is prohibited during periods according to the rules of the Swaminarayan Mandir that owns this institution.
The vice-chancellor of Krantiguru Shyamji Krishna Verma Kutch University has set up an enquiry committee into the incident though no police complaints have been made so far by any students. Some have anonymously told news reporters that “menstruation discrimination” and shaming is quite prevalent in their institution in other forms too, and that “this kind of humiliation is routine.”
The incident just comes days after women students of Gargi College in Delhi were molested by drunken men during their college fest, and both the administration and police were a silent spectator.
Campuses have now become new vulnerable spaces for our young men and women, especially women to whom the biggest threat still remains gender based violence or discrimination. What is worse that instead of placing the blame where it lies, the administrations, society and media victim-blame the women, enforce discriminatory restrictions on them in the name of morality and ‘sanskaar’. Influential perpetrators like Chinmayanada even get away with it easily, leaving the women to face harassment, hostility, and legal procedures.
Temples have always prohibited menstruating women from visiting citing this ‘impurity’, the recent case being the famous Sabarimala case where women had filed a plea in the courts to get equal access to the temple as men do. The apex court in India has allowed women of all age groups entry but there is still resistance by devotees and temple management.
Similarly in some other religious places like the Nizamuddin Dargah in Delhi, women are not allowed inside the sanctum sanctorum of the main dargah not stating any clear reason, but obviously deeming women “lesser than in some way.” The Haji Ali Dargah Trust in Mumbai, which had initially resisted women’s entry after a ban put in place in 2011-12 conceded in October 2016 before the Supreme Court that women can enter the sanctum.
Women being deemed unfit for religious duties, unclean or impure due to a ‘normal’ biological function is definitely insulting and regressive in the 21st century.
In India period shaming has been happening since time immemorial, and has led to an untouchability often not talked about in homes. A report says that 58 percent of women have felt a sense of embarrassment simply because they were on their period. And these are American women; the figures in India and the rest of Asia would definitely be higher if you factor in our outdated notions of impurity.
Our women are made to use all kind of euphemisms for periods like chums, “I am down”, “that time of the month”, “ I am unwell”, but never, ever utter the word “periods” loud and proper.
Getting a period stain on clothing or bedding still remains a taboo in most homes, and sanitary napkins bought from stores are wrapped in black conspicuous packets as if they conceal something dangerous. This is just one part of period shaming – the restriction on movement of girls and women on their periods, on touching other people, and things like pickles in Indian homes, etc., is clearly something that tells the women in this country that they become lesser beings and impure because they menstruate. Even though they are equal citizens by law.
In her scathing book The Handmaid’s Tale, author Margaret Atwood creates a dystopian state called Gilead that controls the sexuality of all women down to their menstrual cycle and pregnancy.
Is what’s been happening in India a Gilead kind of dystopia, I ask myself? Where women are meant to dress up in a certain way according to their ‘social function’ and sanitary napkins are kept in control so that her fertility can be determined by the time she bleeds, etc.?
Period Shaming is a human rights concern. Societies must realise that the blood they are deeming impure is the one from which human life is born, so what are they actually demeaning? While men in India openly urinate and defecate in public places and we conveniently turn a blind eye to it, the whole moral policing machinery gets all out to shame a woman about menstruation.
It is a pity that a country that worships goddesses and celebrates fertility and motherhood throws out its women from their ‘sacred’ spaces, and even penalises them for a biological function. The shame has to stop now!
Image source: YouTube
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Pooja Priyamvada is a columnist, professional translator and an online content and Social Media consultant.
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