My name is Sheela and this is my Ruthu Chakra story.
I attained puberty when I was in the 9th standard. I wasn’t in school, I was at home when it happened. I knew about it from a young age as my mom had taught me about it while I was in the 5th standard. In my house, fortunately, there weren’t many strict traditions or rules to be followed, but we were not allowed to take long walks or accomplish important tasks on those days until we had taken a head bath. There was a reason for it – we used to use a cloth and it isn’t comfortable to walk or perform tough tasks in that state.
In the days following my attaining puberty, no one did much. I wasn’t allowed to go to school for 5 days and they performed ‘poshane’, which means they provided food to help my body gain strength. My sister had taught me the use of sanitary napkins. Most of the time, it is not easy to use a strip of cloth, because we need to wash and dry it outside. I feel that, however tough it may be, it is good to save up some money and buy sanitary napkins separately.
The regular use of cloth may lead to infections and it is not easy for everyone to rush to a doctor as it is expensive. Plus, few are comfortable about approaching a doctor about an infection in the private areas of the body. Therefore, it is better to prevent serious conditions.
People usually look at such things as tradition and are hesitant about make any changes. I have seen many of my friends being made to sit away from the family members on those days. The belief is that the cloth will shift and the blood may spill out, but even today with sanitary pads, my friends are forced to follow this practice. They are provided improper bedding and they struggle for 5 days with little sleep. This is the time when we feel mentally stressed, but instead of providing support and warmth these women are made to sit away in discomfort.
I have also noticed that once a girl attains puberty, a grand ceremony is organised in her honour. The parents feel that they are participating in an important event, but the girl sitting there surely feels very uncomfortable. Even boys and men come and enquire of her that, “oh nice, you have attained puberty!”, which deepens her discomfort. I don’t know how to phrase this but I was with my friend when she started her period and her uncle made a remark about that. I felt uncomfortable about it and I could only imagine how my friend had felt.
At the ceremony, people come and give the girl a bath and men would make comments at her expense. A girl’s private life is interrupted at such ceremonies. She is often unaware of what’s happening around her, she has to struggle through the pain, and she is unable to eat as people keep approaching her, or commenting about her, and applying ceremonial turmeric on her body. Let them perform the rituals, I feel, but why should so many people be invited is a question in my head!
Women participating in these ceremonies is understandable, but when men are involved, I can imagine it getting very uncomfortable. It is all related to a girl’s private parts. I know that it is a biological process, but women do feel discomfort while speaking about it. It is just a change in the body’s processes, it really shouldn’t be made an issue out of.
A girl attaining puberty does not mean that she is ready to get married or lead a married life. Instead of spending so much money on ceremonies, buy sanitary napkins for the girl and educate her about menstrual hygiene.
(The opinions expressed in this post are of the interviewee. Radio Active CR 90.4 MHz supports sustainable, healthy menstrual practices, and endorses no specific sanitary products/brands.)