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Growing up with menstrual taboos

By Kiran Rai Monday, January 2, 2017 - 17:16
Little did young Shreelata know that getting her period would bring all sorts of restrictions on her personal life. Find out how she fought cultural taboos…

This article is a part of our "Editors pick Best of 2016" series. It  was first published on 6th June, 2016.

Shreelata Tiwari (name changed) is 25-year-old production assistant at an NGO in Delhi.

My first time

I was 11 years old when I had my first period. At that time, I was completely oblivious to puberty and changes in my body. To be very honest, I was petrified to see blood flowing out of my vagina suddenly. I was so scared that I thought I had contracted a very serious disease.

In my state of confusion and anxiety, I informed my mother and elder sister immediately. I was in tears, telling them that I was going to die because I was bleeding. My mother seemed more petrified than me. Her reaction scared me further. “Oh my God! Her periods have begun so early!”

Stringent rules

My sister asked me to stop crying and told me that it happened to every girl at some time. My mother warned her from explaining any further and took charge of the situation.

She didn’t tell me what exactly I was going through. I remember her first instructions were warnings about not touching idols of Gods or anything that belonged in our home temple. She strictly warned me not to pray during my periods or even visit temples. I felt like I had turned into a devil overnight.

Her rules and instructions didn’t end there. She further told me to stay away from pickles and plants. I was also stopped from wearing short skirts. I could only wear full-length pyjamas now on. I didn’t understand why I was facing all these restrictions. I couldn’t help but ask my sister what was wrong with me.

Natural body process

Few days later, my sister made me sit in her room and explained again that menstruation wasn’t a disease but a natural body process.

I was furious to learn that she already knew about it and had chosen not to tell me earlier. However, I was also relieved to find out that I wasn’t going to die.

Defying menstruation myths

Since then, every month, those seven days have been just like any other punishment in school. I wasn’t allowed to meet anybody or play with my brother. I was only allowed to go out after I washed myself properly from head to toe on the last day of my period. It made me cringe. I felt dirty and unaccepted with all the restrictions. I would often question God that if he hated it so much, why did he even create us this way?

One afternoon, my mother was laying out spices on our roof terrace to dry. I wanted to see what could happen if I touched it. While she was there, I quickly went to the kitchen and grabbed a piece of mango pickle. I ate it and waited for a few days to see any reaction.

Feeling happy during periods…

Alas! The pickle was fine and so was I. This experiment made me realise that there were so many myths regarding menstruation. After that incident, I did not hesitate going to the temple, touching the plants and most importantly, being happy during my periods. Trust me, it felt better.

As I grew older and experienced some more changes in my body, I started reading and learning about the female anatomy. I realised that all the myths about menstruation were made up by our society and had no scientific backing. I was also surprised to know that these superstitions were rampant all over India.

Speaking up

I could sense some sort of freedom in not adhering to the rules. Though I wouldn’t tell everyone openly, I would never let myself follow them.

Once when my mother was taking us to the temple, my sister got her periods on the way. She immediately cancelled the visit considering my sister’s period as a bad omen. I couldn’t hold my anger. I instantly said, “Periods are neither a bad omen nor dirty. It is something very normal and doesn’t harm anyone or your plants and pickles. In fact it’s your attitude that brings shame to us and our bodies.”

My mother was very upset after hearing me speak up. She didn’t talk to me that day but I was happy that I didn’t keep quiet anymore and at least tried to clear some of her misconceptions regarding menstruation.

Have you ever been a victim of menstrual myths? Share your experiences on our discussion forum or write to us on Facebook.

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