Men are spared the ordeal of bleeding every month, going through menstrual cramps and having their body considered so “dirty”, “impure” and “disgusting” that in some parts of India they are forbidden from entering kitchens and temples during “that time of the month.”
It is the time when monsoons hit the country and Assam celebrates the Ambubachi Mela organized in the Kamakhya Temple. This year the festival is scheduled around 22nd June to 26th June. The mela is believed to be the celebration of the yearly menstruation cycle of Goddess Kamakhya, the most important deity of the Tantric cult.
There is no idol of the Goddess but a stone in the shape of a vagina that is worshipped, over which there flows a natural spring keeping it moist all the time.
The most interesting part of this festival is the idea of its Prasad which is distributed in two forms, i.e. Angodak which means the fluids of the body represented by the water from the eternal spring; and Angabastra – which is the piece of cloth used to cover the ‘yoni’ or vagina during the days of menstruation since Goddess Kamakhya Devi is believed to be going through her menstrual cycle,
What is it about menstruation that makes it such a hush-hush, private affair when we all know that it is just a normal, bodily function that women have to undergo every month? Why are there so many taboos surrounding the menstruating woman?
I remember when my younger sister first started menstruating and would complain of cramps to my mother, she would always do it in hushed tones. Sanitary napkins would be wrapped in newspapers and kept out of the sight of male folks in the house. The lack of information around sexual and reproductive health meant that my siblings and I were at best ignorant and took our mother’s way as the norm.
A report brought out by Dasra, a strategic philanthropy foundation working around women’s welfare and rights, has observed that 70% of mothers in India consider menstruation “dirty”, thereby perpetuating a culture of shame and ignorance that more often than not begins at home.
Research shows that secrecy and stigma around menstruation inhibits participation of girl children in schools, particularly in rural ones that lack basic infrastructure such as toilets and adequate water and sanitation facilities.
Social institutions like the family, schools, universities and workplaces often ensure that we do not talk of the female body or sexuality outside the bounds of homes and bathrooms. Female sexuality is regulated by a system that denies women basic rights over their body and health.
The fact that so many women across the country do not have access to adequate menstrual or reproductive healthcare is testimony to this. Figures released by Dasra indicate that 88% of menstruating women in India do not have access to pads and tampons, instead using home-made alternatives such as old fabric, rags, sand, ash, wood shavings, newspapers, dried leaves, hay and plastic.
Source inputs: Economy Decoded, Huff Post