Did I make the gods angry? Do I have to go to hell for this? Does my family have to suffer? As much as I try to avoid these questions I can’t help but wonder about them before stepping inside sacred religious places during my menstruation. The answer is still an enigma. As a quintessential city girl who seeks logic even in long-established religious beliefs, I have to admit that I keep asking these questions to myself all the time, even though I seldom get any good answer. Not that I go to temples or pray every day but I am always conscious that “I am not allowed to” during my period.
There is still this taboo in our society regarding the entry of menstruating women in religious places and at the time of Puja or performance of any religious ritual, even in urban regions. Women always have to step back as they are called “Jutho” or “Chuna Nahune” during her periods. “Chuna Nahune”, which literally means “impure/untouchable”, are heinous words to describe women’s body, yet the term is both accepted and widely used without any hesitation.
Yes, I dare to enter the holy temples and touch the idols of gods even when I bleed. Now do I have to suffer because I touched the god when my body is supposedly profane and impure? The answer is a definite “NO” and I would do anything not to be bothered by such silly questions anymore. Menstruation is a natural phenomenon, a natural notification saying you are not pregnant this month. But we couldn’t stop at that, could we? What I don’t understand is, why are so many stigmas attached to one organ? Is it some kind of fascination or just the way to make us feel bad about our body? From magazines to holy scripts, it’s everywhere, and just unavoidable.
Our own victims
A girl gets her first period between the ages of 9 and 14. At such a tender age she easily accepts the existing social norms and practices without questions. But accepting such norms means internalizing the hate for her own body that bleeds once a month. No wonder, a feeling of shame follows when she is confined to one room and completely isolated. With bloated tummy and hormonal changes it’s normal to feel a bit different about your body at that time of the month but there is a big problem when you start hating your own body for it.
In rural areas women are still kept in cowsheds during their menstruation, a practice that is known as Chaupadi. Not only is she denied nutritious food and sanitation but also the expected care and support of the family. A recent legislation prohibited women from going to menstrual huts. But no bill in itself can guarantee that women won’t have to go through the entrenched social and religious exclusion.
With festivals at hand, I wonder how many women and girls will be barred from enjoying this festive season. As obvious as it is to say that menstruation is a natural process people celebrate Panchami, a ritual to wash away the sins you committed during your periods. Many of my sophisticated friends even succumb to the unhealthy habit of taking pills to delay their periods in order to be part of these festivals. The medicines they consume to stop periods causes cramps, diarrhea and dizziness and greatly harm their body. But refraining from participating in rituals leads women to associate their own bodies with impurity.
Be the change
We are rational beings and sometimes you have to dare to go beyond the artificial social restrictions to change the society. To change perceptions, we need to take the first step ourselves. I am 25-year-old woman and have experienced the social exclusion during my periods, just like all the other women. But I have stopped being ashamed of my gender. A woman cannot be subjected to wrath of gods for being one.
To remove the idea of impurity associated with women’s body during menstruation, it is crucial to change people’s attitude towards the menstrual period, to make them aware that women’s body is sacred and not profane when she bleeds. But this change has to start with you, the women of Nepal. You first change yourself and then change the society. It is long past the time that the taboo related to women’s body during menstruation was extirpated.
Empowerment of women through more education and their increased role in decision making can also help in this endeavor. Let us not be ashamed of our own bodies. Everyone should understand that humanity exists only because women have the power of procreation and this happens only when she can bleed. I plead with all the women to realize that they have the right to resist forced gender roles and change the belief of impurity associated with menstruation.