Menstruation through the lens of a Bodo Girl

I’m a woman, daughter, sister, wife, daughter/sister-in-law, mother, friend, dreamer, educator, organiser…and many more. Yes, I’m a female and my physiology makes me bleed every month. I have been doing that for years now its part of my life like as it is for millions of women and girls out there.

Menstruation is part of our existence as females it’s our basic physiology. As old as life itself as natural yet so tabooed. Here in this open letter to all, I want to share the journey with this process.

From the moment a girl nears puberty the process of making her aware of her bodily changes starts. This process is not a stepwise structured revelation but a chaotic web of remarks and sneer. The child, unless totally confined, has already been made aware long before the women in the family take the job in their hands. Through peers and through all the obvious signs when the mother/aunt/elder sisters go through the monthly cycles. But nobody has spoken about it till she is ready on their terms. It’s a hushed topic all males please excuse…and trust me most cultures regardless of any directions follow this diktat.

No other physiological process finds itself mired in superstitions like menstruation. Many cultures regard menstruating women unclean/impure. They are barred from entering religious places they cannot perform any religious activities. In many communities, a woman cannot enter the kitchen while periods are going on. She cannot, rather should not, have sex.

Yet there are cultures and communities where it is seen in positive light and taken as natural as should be because it is natural. In Assam certain communities practice Tuloni Biya or Santi Biya, a ritual which celebrates the girl’s attainment of womanhood. On the fourth day of her first cycle, she is married to a banana tree and everyone comes and blesses her. It is looked upon as a celebration to rejoice the female potential to ‘birth life’.

For me and my sisters, it was always natural, by virtue of having parents who always saw things from the functionality of it rather than any connotations to it. And thank God! it was one of those rare topics where they were totally in agreement. This outlook has to do also because they belong to a tribe where menstruating has always been seen as a body function and nothing else.

We were very aware of periods because our mother had her monthly cycle. Those were the days when taking a cloth during menstruation was a common practice even amongst the middle-class. We obviously had no idea about PMS and all the uneasiness that this brought, our only benchmark was our mother’s mood and the food. Yes, few days every month she scolded us more and the food…will we ate it forget relishing. We were never hushed about our inquisitiveness on her monthly treatment of the bag full of rag. That bag always travelled with us wherever we went. So basically our initiation into menstruation was pretty smooth. I always knew one day I’m going to have my own bag with full of rag. We were told openly never behind closed doors, so finally when I got my periods, I was 12, it was as natural as it should be. I was given my bag told how to put them and later clean it. That was all about it. Next day I went to school like any other normal day. A few months later Ma introduced me to sanitary napkins. Wouldn’t deny life became a lot easier. My dad was as comfortable in buying the sanitary napkins as he would be to shop for groceries. We were never told not to talk about it to males. It was never a taboo just a body function which is necessary.

My tribe does not practice Tuloni Biya and it was bordering weird for us seeing our peers go through it. But now when I look back deeper into it due to this ritual the taboo related to menstruation is removed and it can be spoken about. So there is the silver lining.

Here I do not want to talk about what happens to the body and the mind when we have periods? It is a very very individual process. The only thing common is it is very UNCOMFORTABLE. To have to do with 24/7 for 5 to 7 days with something stuck in between your legs it is an extremely unpleasant experience. No, no matter what you do not get used to it. On top of that many of us experience cramps which can be anywhere from mild to excruciating.

For me as an individual who has an access to the benefits of science and technology going through it every month is still a ‘task’. I can only shudder as much by the mere thought about the plight, of millions of girls and women who lack basic sanitation hygiene, go through during menstruation. Along comes the various social taboos which only aggravates the situation.

Menstruation is a physiological function like any other so treat it as such. It does induce discomfort but in no way, it makes us/females unclean/impure. How can something so basic and the ‘very base of life itself’ be impure? Why do we have to hide it, talk in hushed up tones? Let’s be Open and things will be much easier. I lead by example. My parents were open about it so will I be with my daughter. I believe that this is the best way I can assist her when she starts hers.

Recently the topic of menstruation has caught the media by storm…thanks to the upcoming movie Padman. Apparently inspired by the life of social entrepreneur Arunachalam Muruganantham. He, in his quest to generate awareness about the traditional unhygienic practices regarding menstruation, invented the low cost sanitary pad-making machine. My heartiest regards to him for making life lot brighter for thousands out there and also to the makers of the film for making a movie on this subject.

However, how does holding a sanitary pad and tagging someone ahead on social media help the greater cause? Looking at it through my eyes it comes across as a promotional gimmick for the movie and nothing else. Sanitary napkins have been around for decades now and makers never shied away from promoting them in all form of media. So why is it so hyped now to hold sanitary napkins? did I miss something here???

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