The Breakthrough Voice 11th November, 2016

‘That’ Which Must Not Be Named.

This happened a couple of months back when I had  an unexpected conversation with my house help. My house help is a woman. Nothing to be surprised about. How many male domestic workers have you come across? I never thought I would discuss about menstruation with my help. Like who cares about other’s periods?Except mothers,mother-in-laws, aunts and the pandits (of course).

My help comes around six in the morning to prepare breakfast and lunch. One morning, I randomly asked my help if she bathes every day before coming for work early in the morning. Her response was noteworthy. “Roz nahate hain lekin jis din woh hota hain toh baal dhoke aate hain.” (I take a bath everyday, but the day that happens I wash my hair and come.) I took ‘woh’ as her husband. Wait hold on. Immediately I asked her “Sirf aapke pati hota hain toh aap baal kyun dhote ho?” (Wait, why do you wash your hair only if your husband is there?). She found my question amusing and tried to explain to me by ‘woh’ she did not mean her husband. “Aapka bhi hota hain na, jab aap baal dhote ho and puja karte ho.” (You also have it right, when you wash your hair and pray.) She was blushing as if I was asking about her husband. I normally asked her “Oh, aap periods ke baare mein bol rahe ho?”(Oh, you are talking about periods?)

She did not even make any eye contact with me and was more or less trying to say period is a taboo word and she will be cursed if she spells out the word. The stigma of menstruation is rooted so deep in our culture it makes us blush out of shame. So I confirmed specifically with my help that I do not shampoo my hair specifically when I am on periods and neither do I do puja. Who on earth does Puja for getting periods? Gosh! Is it like thanking god for showering me with lots of blood, period cramps and proving yet again that I am a ‘complete’ woman?

I tried explaining to my help that period is normal and so is the blood that goes out. There is no reason to feel impure and ashamed every month for something as natural as any other body secretion. I don’t know how far my help would have understood this fact. But after she left I had this continuous thought-process how many women must be living their entire lives with a lie and a belief that makes no sense! It also makes me question myself about how do we sensitize to a section of women who don’t have access to information on issues like menstrual hygiene, myths, gender equality or societal stigmas .

There are several everyday manifestations of the stigma associated with menstruation that need to be countered. This conversation with my house help made me realise this and also ask questions. Questions such as are we ready to accept each other irrespective of who is undergoing menstruation or growing a moustache? Are we?

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