A menstrual taboo is any social taboo concerned with menstruation. In some societies it involves menstruation being perceived as unclean or embarrassing. Many religions consider menstruation ritually unclean. Some of the menstrual taboos are menstruating women cannot enter the kitchen, enter the temple, attend/perform rituals, touch pickle, sleep inside the house and sleep with their partners. They are supposed to use different utensils, clothes and be isolated while they are bleeding. Oops! Some women are not even allowed to say that they are bleeding.
Let me tell you what I think of these taboos. It’s stupid, superstitious and unscientific, having no place in today’s time. When I sometimes become a part of this awkward discussion over the purity of this biological process, all I want to say is “Give me a break!”. But today it’s different. Even I want to talk about this monthly visitor/sinful stalker women face. But the context is different. It’s about how such bizarre and illogical social norms are claiming lives of women.
The vast majority of Nepal’s population is Hindu, and in ancient Hindu culture, menstruating women were considered toxic.
According to The New York Times, Gauri Kumari Bayak, 22 from Nepal passed away recently. She was a victim of the practice called chhaupadi, which in the Nepali language means something like “tree omen.” The vast majority of Nepal’s population is Hindu, and in ancient Hindu culture, menstruating women were considered toxic — if they entered a temple, they polluted it; if they handled the family’s food, everyone would become sick; if they touched a tree, that tree would never bear fruit.
She was banished from her house in biting cold and made to sleep in the hut. She was found dead apparently having asphyxiated after building a small fire inside the hut to keep warm.
Gauri is not the first victim of the age-old practice.
Every year there have been several cases reported. What breaks my heart is that she was teaching illiterate women while finishing her own studies. Apparently, she belongs to a well-educated family who, unfortunately, blindly believed in this insane practice. To all the advocates of banishing women from their homes while they menstruate, I do not apologize for the kind of words I am using (I wish I could use the crudest of words but never mind).
Researching the internet I could not find one viable source which explained why this process is followed. Then who said women need to sleep outside? Oh, even if there is something like that, I do not find the logic behind it. It’s unfortunate that educated people don’t seem to be thinking practically as well. I know of a friend who still sleeps isolated on the floor, walks thrice a day to the garbage area outside the colony to dispose of her pad. What’s the harm if it is disposed inside the trash can inside the house?
Observations from various websites and resources have helped me understand this syndrome a little better. Scientifically, it is estimated that three out of four girls and women experience the menstrual pain of varying intensity and one out of ten experience such a severe pain that they are unable to carry out their usual daily activities. This is the exact reason why women need rest and they prefer to relax.
To reduce this tiring and painful biological process, women take an off but this has been converted into a myth/taboo as to not enter the kitchen, do any work and just be isolated.
Earlier women did not have any leak-proof sanitary pads. They had to probably sit down to avoid leakage and various other mess associated with it. Thus, they were possibly made to stay outside the house in comfort and relax. To practice this in an age where we have sanitary napkins of so many sizes, leak-proof, odour proof and what not. We also have tampons, menstrual cups and everything that makes menstruation quite easy and comfortable. Earlier fire was created by using rocks, we can still do that! But do we? No, right? It’s as simple as that.
A little ray of inspiration
In Southern Kerala, during a woman’s period the male members of the family would sleep outside the house. This practice is now seen by historians as a symbol of respect the ancient Nair men showed towards their women. The basic ideology was that women who were menstruating will be restless and uncomfortable, hence it was best not to bother them.
This, as per historians and feminists, is the only culture where menstruating women were considered superior anywhere in the world and the only recorded instances where menstruating women enjoyed a divine status.
We are the most advanced society. We are the google gen. and are everything that none of our ancestors would have ever imagined. Let’s not banish women as an outcast and force them to sleep outside. Let’s not practice logical reasoning for cracking examinations, let’s use it for cracking a better livelihood.
Reshma is an intern with SheThepeople.TV