Monday, April 13, 2015

Kick Her Out! Period!




It was a telling post that I saw on Facebook that helped me make up my mind on the topic I should write on today. When I was younger, advertisements would pop up in magazines, talking about “those four days” when women “were down”. Women used to discuss the topic, covering up the actual event, (for it was one!) with substitute phrases like “chums” and “my Aunty”. God alone knows what the poor Aunty had to do with it, anyway!

Women would be “Carefree” and “Stay free”, even as they “Whispered” about their condition. It was as if having a period was a taboo subject, not to be mentioned, much like the villain in Harry Potter books. (I don’t dare mention his name, you see!)

Of course there is a reason why men were not inflicted with "the curse", which is yet another imaginative way of referring to the subject.



Only a woman undergoing PMS knows the agonies she goes through. She feels out of sorts and often her temper goes through the roof.



                                                                                

                  


The situation was worse, in the past, in big draughty houses in Kerala, when there were cavernous rooms and tiny bathrooms, often located outside. This was highly inconvenient, especially for women, but much safer than it is for women these days, who have to go to the fields, which double up as open bathrooms. 

Going back to the big draughty houses, there would be one small room, dark and dingy, which was specially for women having their periods. They would be sequestered within for the four or five days when they were “unclean”, and even their food would be brought to them. They would have to wash their own sheets, and stay within, so that they would not pollute any of the other inmates in the house by touching them. I shudder to think what they went through, crouching in the dark, doubled over with cramps and back aches! 
  


I recall my mother telling me how she and her family would go down to their ancestral home from Bombay (that was the name in those days!) for their summer vacations. Once, she had invited some friends along with her. There was a special function at the Devi temple, and unfortunately, one of her close friends came down with her periods. My mother’s grandmother was a petite woman with a will of iron. She forbade the girl from taking part in any of the activities. Wasn't cleanliness next to Godliness? Obviously not in a temple!



 My mother, who was equally strong willed tried to change the old lady’s mind, but she was obdurate. “She cannot come into the temple! Not when she is unclean!”

Unconvinced, my mother stood her ground. “But, Ammamma (Grandmother), what is unclean about her having her periods? Isn’t the Devi in the temple also a woman? Doesn’t She have Her periods as well?”

Her grandmother was speechless, and for once, she did not have any justification. Suffice it to say that my mother’s friend was allowed to watch from a safe distance, which was a big concession on the part of my great grandmother.

Today women are coming out and speaking about having their periods openly, with the chums and Aunties having made a graceful exit.



 Temples still do not allow menstruating women in the premises. The mindset is to firmly entrenched against the concept, and the combination of grandma’s tales, old customs and taboos will ensure that this concept of being “unclean’ is here to stay.

And finally, let me hark back to the one post that put this idea into my head. Maybe it will open up not only a discussion, but also put to rest the more ludicrous aspects of menstruation. Period!




17 comments:

  1. Ah, what a topic (and I'm reading it while suffering from it, what an irony)... Sri Lanka has handled / handles it much in the same way as India. In our household we're more open about it, but my sisters-in-law and I try not to go to the temple, and we do not do the Buddhist poojas at home when we're down with our menses.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Devika, I can understand that completely! I also still follow rules, but I don't agree with the reasons given, that's all! Thanks for the comment!

    ReplyDelete
  3. Deepti, I think in olden times these seclusions were boon for the ladies, at least they got rest from their rigorous routines. But yes, hygeine and sanitation were poor. Most of the rituals have a scientific reasoning behind it. it became misused and attrocious with time.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Preethi, I agree with your entire comment. My problem is with the dark and dingy room, as though the woman were an outcaste. And the warped ideas about her being unclean and able to pollute others through her touch.

    ReplyDelete
  5. Deepti, you have addressed my pet peeve. It used to be war at home with my grandma every month. I used to fight every single rule, especially this staying separate. I don't follow this damn rule in my home. My daughter, who's almost thirty, doesn't even know what I am talking about if I mention some of the experiences when I was a teen. And am I glad! I believe its just one more rule created by a Male to demean women. And I refuse to follow it ;)

    ReplyDelete
  6. Right kind of education and awareness can only help us tackle these tabooed subjects like menstruation or sexuality. I liked the way your mom convinced your granny, you have to stand by the logic and It has to start from home! You have successfully done it outside too!

    ReplyDelete
  7. Sundari, I can imagine the war you had with your grandmother. I guess we were born in the generation after, when we could question and argue the point! My grandmother was actually paraded on an elephant when she started her periods to announce that she was now ready for marriage!

    ReplyDelete
  8. Thank you, Savita,for reading through all my blogs so regularly! I agree with you... only education and awareness can take the world forward, and break such taboos.

    ReplyDelete
  9. You have hit the nail on the head. It has been a long time since I have stopped telling people that I am having periods and take part in the Puja and other auspicious festivals.My in-laws have 'saligrama'...the very pious shivling...yet I enter the puja room when on my periods. And they are thriving.

    ReplyDelete
  10. Janaki, I want to thank you for setting off the idea ion my head through that wonderful poster.All these rules are man made ones, and need to be taken with a sackful of salt! Thanks for visiting my page!

    ReplyDelete
  11. Hmm. I guess I'm breaking the lady commenters streak here on the post. Have mom, sis and three gal best friends so have heard quite a bit from them. Mom still doesn't light the lamp in the evenings when she has her periods. Don't know if the chums have made a complete exit, because my best friend still uses that term when I ask her why she can't come meet me sometimes. But yeah, perhaps, compared to years back, the restriction seems to be lifting. This kind of reminded me of the social networking site removing the pics of a gal recently. Don't remember which site it was though, but it was on my FB homepage for quite a few days.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Vinay, each to his or her own, I feel! No one has the right to object to anyone else's beliefs! I saw that post that you have referred to. Thanks for reading my post and commenting on it!

      Delete
  12. personally, I could do with a little rest and gladly let someone take over with the cooking and stuff!! of course minus the dingy rooms and seclusion!! and I could also use a little massage to soothe my aching back, and being allowed to vent the steam on anyone I feel like...but I will never get any of those luxuries...talk about wanting what is not!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I agree with you that rest and recuperation are very inviting! I am sure that one day you will get all those luxuries, and be able to enjoy them to the maximum! Thanks for reading and commenting on my post!

      Delete
  13. That's a very powerful post and I loved the quote in the end..

    Cheers

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you so much, Geetika! I am thrilled that you enjoyed my post!

      Delete
  14. Hi Deepti, Reading ur Blog after a long time...I just loved this post and all girls and women will agree with ur views. It is beautiful to be a woman but taboos like these make her feel depressed. A married woman is criticized when she fails to give birth or when child birth is delayed for some reason or other. But these critics do not realize that menstruating is as important as child birth without which the magic of giving birth will never happen. It is really annoying when we are treated as "untouchables" on "those" days and kept in a separate room, given separate plates and tumblers and so on. I used to wonder about these orthodox people when they buy vegetables, fruits etc from women vendors. How will they know if she is "untouchable" or not on the day they buy from her? We need to bring up our kids by saying that menses is part of a girls life and it need not hinder any activity of hers provided she is hygienic and energetic to do her job. Even sons should be educated about it so that they treat their wives with greater understanding and concern. Thanks again for writing on such an important topic and making it interesting too with pictures and posts...

    ReplyDelete