Tuesday, December 1, 2015

The Female Human Body and the politics of Menstruation

Nikita Azad has pulled the rabbit out of the hat. A raging, roaring debate about menstruation has been deafening this part of the planet. And its falling on the deaf ears of a bunch of self-confessed misogynists who have appointed themselves as the patrons of religion.
This is India, where talking about menstruation is forbidden and a bleeding woman is considered impure. Look at the irony, it's also the same country where women are worshiped as goddesses on Ashtami. So while women are revered as sacred their bodies and the blood flowing out of it, because of the changes that a woman's body undergoes to prepare for a pregnancy is considered impure.  Once in a month, the uterus grows a new lining to get ready for a fertilized egg. And when the body does that, all hell breaks lose and women are deemed as impure by men and women, the silent agents of patriarchy.
When I look back at times, I remember my struggle with menstruation. I was one of those girls who started menstruating early in life and was not prepared to deal with it. It came as a rude shock for my mom, who thought that she had all the time in the world to arm me with the necessary information. What followed was a cycle of events every month that involved regular visits to the chemist shop to get my supply of sanitary pads, to carefully placing it so that I don't stain my clothes and become a butt of jokes ( I did become a butt of jokes many times, since I suffered from heavy flow) to hurriedly rushing to the washroom during a period to change to escape the prying eyes of people and especially men. 
We used to secretly murmur about it amidst female friends never letting the guys around us have an inkling of it, as if they had no idea about menstruating girls.
Religion meanwhile had already played havoc in our lives. Many hindu girls used to tell us stories of how they were disallowed to enter temples while on periods and were even not allowed to say their prayers. I was told to not attend the Sunday mass and touch the bible while menstruating because as per the patriarchal church fathers I was impure to touch anything that was sacred. Since I wasn't a devout Christian, I used to happily give the sunday mass a miss while on my period. But over the years I felt like questioning these practices, devised by a bunch of men  for keeping a check on women. I decided to abruptly end this malpractice of not being allowed inside the church premises by heading to the church on a Sunday, while on my periods. Mom supported me and never reprimanded   me for this sudden outburst of rebellion. While some eastern orthodox churches still do not allow menstruating women to partake in the sunday mass, the catholic church had since opened its doors to women on their periods. 
Infact when I had posted a status update to support the #HappyToBleed hashtag some friends expressed their surprise and doubt about such practices existing in the church. Many more decided to stay mum about body politics that is regressive and oppressive. 

Nikita's open display of fearless honesty has opened a dirty can of worms. I saw quite a few women supporting the #HappyToBleed hashtag with pictures, with a vast majority still choosing to stay silent about the period talk. To all such people, who decide to brush this issue under the carpet and consider it shameful to talk about menstruation, may I pose a few questions.

1) Do you think menstruation a natural process needs to be hidden from men?
2)Do you think men don't know about menstruation and if suddenly through an online campaign they are informed of it, all hell will break lose?
3) What is so shameful about menstruation, the blood or the fact that it flows from the vagina?
4) Is it difficult for you to accept menstruation as a natural body cycle, if we forget the pain and cramps associated with it?
5) Don't you think the body politics around menstruation needs to be discussed, so that women are not shunned and shamed by patriarchy, for something that is natural?
6) Don't you think talking more about menstruation will bring to light the taboos associated with it?
7) Don't you think campaigns centered around menstruation will allow the less privileged women folk of our country to be informed about it?
8) Don't you think campaigns like #HappyToBleed will foil patriarchy to play havoc in a woman's life?
9) Do you consider yourself impure when you are on a period?
10) Should a  normal cycle be a yardstick for shunning women  from religious freedom?

If we do not crawl out of our dark holes to tell the world that Gods and goddesses are not the private property of men, and they can't keep using it to suppress and silence us, then this world  would never see the light of the day. We will never see times when women will be able to lay claims on their religious freedom, remember that is also freedom of a kind.
Healthy debates and discussions and campaigns like #HappyToBleed are a reminder of why we need to reclaim our spaces, especially those that feed on patriarchy and oust women for bodily functions and choices. 
Such movements will also be torchbearers for women deprived of hygienic sanitary facilities like clean washrooms and their monthly supply of sanitary pads or tampons or menstrual cups.

The question is not about whether I can go to church or not while menstruating?  The question is why should a group of self-confessed keepers of religion and societal norms be allowed to make a decision about my body based on a bodily discharge that is nature's beautiful reminder about my womanhood? Why on earth should men make a judgement about my purity based on biological functions that are normal?
In solidarity with Nikita Azad, Kiran Gandhi and every such woman who is battling to shun this politics around the female human body and menstruation.
A few years ago, I had not imagined in my waking dreams about this day, when I'll be penning a post about menstruation and trying to evict patriarchy from spaces that I have full rights on, regardless of whether I am menstruating or not. This is a humble attempt at turning the tables on men who have since times immemorial, made and thrust decisions on women like us, for the sake of a suppressing social system based on gender inequality.  

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