In India, menstruation isn’t a biological process, it is tied to a set of beliefs that people subscribe to and follow. This is elucidated in Shanthi’s story for the show ‘Ruthuchakra’.
When she first got her period, Shanthi told her grandmother about it. She says, that it is believed by some people that if a girl tells about her first period to her mother, or if the mother sees the girl during the nascent stages of her first period, the mother tends to lose her eyesight early in life. Shanthi recalls having gone through a ritual soon after, for a period of sixteen days from the day of her menarche. She was asked to sit outside the house and was allowed inside only after a ritualistic bath. Once inside, turmeric and kumkum powder were applied on her skin, signifying her formal welcome into womanhood.
There is also a particular diet that is to be followed by the ‘new woman’, and this can differ with respect to community and region. Shanthi’s diet included coconuts, raw eggs, and various oils that she had to drink. Apart from that, she was given an assortment of eatables, such as various rice preparations and masala dosa, among other things.
When her first period ended, there was a celebration of sorts arranged in her honour – lamps were lit and she was made to be the centre of many rituals conducted by her aunts and other elderly women of the family. Of late, it has also become customary to get the women new clothes and accessories, according to Shanthi.
These customs and beliefs often find their way into present narratives as families propagate their practices. Shanthi’s daughters too participated in rituals similar to those Shanthi took part in. And to this day, her family practices the tradition of making their menstruating daughters sit away from the family, on a mat of their own, with a pillow, a plate, etc, all for their exclusive use.
Although the times have changed, the struggle surrounding the destigmatization of natural bodily processes like the period continues. The stigma has also been normalized, given the fact that the present generation follows the same practices as the previous ones with few questions asked.
The question we need to ask is, are we as women truly empowered with these practices still existing in our immediate society?
Written by Anagha Bharadwaj.