I belong to a Hindu family and the major reason why I was forced to internalise period myths is the hypocrisy of religious beliefs. On the ninth day of Durga Puja, we have a ritual of feeding nine young girls (Kanya Puja) and worshipping them as manifestations of Goddess Durga. But once girls start menstruating, they can no longer be a part of the feast or even be near it if they are bleeding on that particular day. Similarly, when I was asked to no longer sit among the ‘devis’, enter the pooja room or touch the idols, I internalised the impurity of my menstrual blood. It became sadly normal for me to stay in one room during festivals when the entire family was indulged in holy rituals just because I was menstruating.
Despite all the talks about menstrual hygiene, breaking period myths and taboos, they are still there like an unquestioned reality. What is sadder is the fact that women themselves internalise and embody the period myths, let alone the patriarchal society that isolates menstruating women. The major reason behind the internalisation is the period taboos sanctioned by religion and beliefs that one considers as the foundation of the society. As far as India is concerned, it cannot be denied that religion plays a pivotal role in defining politics, patriarchy and profession. And if this religion itself is biased against women, can we expect equality to be a norm?
In Hindu holy texts, menstruation is believed to be a curse on womanhood. According to a legend, angry Lord Indra severed the head of Vishwaroopacharya (the teacher of Gods) because Indra was not able to pronounce his name. Ultimately, Lord Indra was cursed by the Brahman. However, he got rid of it by distributing the curse among land, tree and women. Since that day, women started menstruating every month. While in Muslim texts, menstruation, termed as haiz, is seen as an impurity. Menstruating women are not allowed to have sex, touch Quran or enter a mosque. She should go through a cleansing process after the menstrual cycle to be considered pure.
There are many other religions with bizarre perceptions and rulings about menstruation. Of course, these texts are only a fragment of a reality that existed years ago. But what keeps the age-old beliefs alive even today if not the continued retellings of these beliefs and myths? Most Indian families firmly believe in religion to an extent that logic and science which define today's age are completely ruled out. Even today girls grow up memorising mantras, learning how to pray, what to believe and what to detest. Then, isn’t it obvious for them to internalise the shame about menstruation too?
I wonder, being a woman, didn’t Goddess Durga herself bleed? Then why can't menstruating girls be a part of the Kanya Puja? Apparently, Kamakhya Temple in Guwahati shuts for 3-4 days every month because Devi's idol bleeds in her menstrual cycle. However, on these days, the worshippers receive holy water as a symbol of venerating and celebrating the menstruating goddess.
This could have worked as a sign to normalise period but then why should period blood be either shamed or glorified?
Why a woman on her menstruation has to either be impure or a powerful goddess? Why is there no effort to just normalise period as a body function?
Things haven't changed much in my house even today. But sometimes staying away in a room during period seems peaceful and empowering rather than being a part of failed efforts to destigmatise period in my society and hypocritical religious customs that perpetuate the stigma. But can just a personal change be enough to break period taboo that is so widespread in society?
I do not intend to say that one should stop believing in religion or burn down the scriptures. There are indeed many good philosophies and beliefs which can make society a better place if understood and practised carefully. But what we certainly need to do is to get rid of the beliefs that oppress women, marginalised people or people from other religion or race. We need to understand period as an essential body function, normalise conversations about it and breakdown the stigma attached to it since ages. Isn't it normal for us to not follow certain rituals and beliefs because they don't make sense in today's world? Then what is stopping us from giving up the regressive beliefs about period? Why can't period myths indeed be an old and forgotten story that we as modern and evolved minds do not believe in any longer?