I lived in an all girls hostel in the outskirts of the national capital region. Most of the girls studying with me came from small, quiet, reserved towns. To many of these girls college gave a independence they had not experienced before. Many of them had not talked to men outside their family before, while others did not even have the freedom to move about town alone without the presence of a male family member or a group of girlfriends, even if it was to attend school.
Coming from a defence environment, surrounded by free thinking, open-minded friends, this was something absolutely strange to me. In my naivety, I did not realise that there was a world so different and opposite from the one I grew up in. It was an absolute culture shock for me.
One evening, while we all sat in front of the telly to watch mindless soap operas and dance shows, something caught my attention. There was an ad for a well known sanitary napkin brand. To my surprise, there was a sudden hunt for the TV remote to change the channel. As I slowly discovered, this aversion to the topic was way deeper than I had imagined. As my band of girls gossiped in my room, the discussion slowly steered towards our monthly visits from a certain friend. I was amused to learn that in certain families, girls were not allowed to enter the kitchen, cook or visit the temple and pray. Stranger even were the ideas that one was not to touch pickles and sacred plants or wash their hair.
But as I thought about it more, the horror of it gripped me. Such backward and scary traditions were so widespread, that friends from across the country had some such rule in their household that they had heard of and followed. And at that time of the month, it left them feeling dirty, impure and unclean. If that were not humiliating enough, there were those families that segregated girls and kept them in a separate room in the house and made them remove the mattresses from the bed or sleep on the floor. And to my utter astonishment, this was not happening just in the uneducated or rural families, but in well-to-do urban ones too. Nobody talked about periods openly but found strange alien words like "chums" and "date" to describe it.
What I find most ironic in this whole situation though was that although we cannot talk about it, it is fine not just for the entire family, but even the house helps and neighbours to know that it is THAT time of the month by the outcast type of treatment meted out to our girls.
By making the process of shedding one's uterine lining to prepare the body for pregnancy each month a taboo to discuss or even experience, our society has made a large part of the preparation and experience of motherhood a traumatising one. It is a sacred, magnificent thing, this power to give and nurture life. It is something to marvel, not hide. It is natural, and not something that makes us sick, impure or untouchable.
I commend Whisper's campaign to bust the myths surrounding menstruation that engulf our society with their "Touch the Pickle" campaign. It is time we teach our daughters that it is a perfectly normal process and nothing to hide or be ashamed of. Shunning or segregation is in no way acceptable. It is time we explain to our daughters the science behind it, and the logical way to deal with it. It is time we talk about it without a shudder. It is time we teach society to deal with it!