About those days

About those days

Apologies, some tricky issues and some plainspeak coming up, that some may find unsettling. Like, sitting through a commercial break with kids, only to have a lady spill a blue-coloured liquid on something she refers to as napkin “ ubiquitous word in your household, just not looking alike. She refers to ˜those days’, wetness, in tandem with images of women dragging their feet, looking wistful, embarrassed. You do your best not to catch your kids’ eye, taking special care not to change the channel to avoid passing an adverse message. With time, your kids learn what to ask you about, and what not to.


Or, as boys in school, we could only wonder after the girls we teased, played with, got beaten up by “ all in the most un-girly fashion – suddenly started counting themselves out of the rough-and-tumble of childhood. We dismissed them as sissies in the making. As adolescence took over, our mothers kept us away from shopping for toiletries, and we acquired an innate sense of which questions will earn us strongly disapproving looks.


Girls, tables turn on you early on. That discouragement from participating in demanding physical activities, words of caution, care, and concern about health and hygiene “ and in many households to this day, the edict of staying away from the kitchen, places of worship and all religious ceremonies, an imposed three-day fasting. Even if your families did not follow these, the lack of adequate sanitation facilities in public spaces, including educational institutions, cannot have been a picnic.

From a very young age, boys learn that women have secrets. And, from a very young age, girls learn how to keep these secrets.


Add to that the strong social angle: reluctance to buy your ˜monthly supplies’ from the man behind the counter, the use of special black bags for ˜your stuff’. Women may even have to forfeit the luxury to express bad mood or temper if they wish to avoid jibes like ˜must be those days’, something that men are never questioned for. I can’t imagine a week-long flu to keep me in buoyant spirits and full working capacity, much less if it happens with monthly regularity, even lesser if I am expected to work and behave as usual, failing which, I might become subject of jokes.


That is not to say that this can be compared to the flu or any illness for that matter – quite the opposite! We owe our existence to this intricate mechanism we have been endowed. I use the word ˜we’ because I cannot conceive of it being something that can be isolated on the basis of gender. As a race, a society, a group, this function belongs to us all. It does not deserve being clothed in superstitions, ignorance and insensitivity.


In fact, this part is as sacred and necessary as the conception of a child and the birth of a baby. Menstruation is part of that cycle that gives a woman the power to bear a child. We see shakti in her power to create. Then, why is it that we denounce this ritual of nature with ignorance, bias, superstitions, and the most unjust of all, indignity?


Women too feel inclined to employ euphemisms such as ˜being in time’, ˜being down’, ˜being visited by the monthly friend’, ˜chumming’, even amongst themselves, to avoid saying the word menstruation. When talking with men, a ˜not feeling particularly well today’ suffices.


Sure, we can be polite. As we have always been. It’s one thing for a class of people that enjoys the privileges of modern living, such as privacy, facilities, education, money, security. But, for those that do not, this tendency to alienate individuals on the basis of their bodily functions ends up smudging out a large part of our population into obscurity “ the morass of ignorance, lack of education, opportunity, and above all, dignity.


Why dignity? Well, of the 2.5 billion people in the world that defecate openly, 665 million people live in India. That makes it almost 50 million people in urban India. Which means, one out of every two Indians has to answer the call of nature in the open. And, while men can do it quite literally ˜on the go’, women have to hold it in until before dawn, or after dark, to avoid being seen.


According to an article that appeared in the Hindu (July 28, 2012), 66% of the women in Delhi slums are verbally abused, 46% are stalked, and more than 30% are physically assaulted while accessing toilets. Women have a far worse deal also because during menstruation and pregnancies, they need more privacy, more water, and more time. And, about 70% of Indian women do not get this.


Talk about lack of opportunity: Almost 23% of girls in rural areas drop out of school when they start menstruating. Also, 40% of schools lack functional toilets. Nearly 66% of girls avoid attending school while menstruating. For adult, working women, a similar problem is experienced at work, and home. A 2009 survey of the capital found that there were only 132 public toilets for women, as against 1,534 for men.


There is this other thing as well: our government makes contraceptives available at all public health centres for free. Shouldn’t this subsidy be extended to women as regards the availability of sanitary napkins? A study conducted by Plan India found that 68% of rural women cannot afford these napkins and use cloth instead, making them susceptible to lack of hygiene and resultant infections during its use and disposal thereof.


Making sanitary napkins accessible to women across the board is perhaps even more important than providing contraception. These products make lives more convenient, safer, and more productive. They are the chance for girls to remain in school, so they don’t miss out on opportunities, a chance for women to safely fulfill their myriad responsibilities.


Ironically, we find it easier to struggle for petrol prices, phone tariffs, schools for our children, but this subject gets pushed far back¦ mostly due to ˜shame’ – shame in talking about it. They are dismissed for being ˜women’s issues’. I sincerely object to that. These are our issues. Such labeling denies us a chance to be human, to own up the responsibility to protect and provide to a citizenry that has borne the brunt of gender bias since time immemorial. And, that’s a shame.

9 thoughts on “About those days

  1. I love your post about including feminine hygiene as a basic part of social hygiene, rather as a part of basic needs. I have long wondered why sanitary napkins are not provided as part of the schemes like mid-day meals for teenagers.

    I take greater care not to upset a girl if I think she is going through those days, even at work. And I think its not something to do with my education, its just about being accommodating and considerate.

    The Kamakhya temple in Assam and even the Shivling show the openness of thought in our traditional thought. You are right when you say that dismissing them as “women’s issues” is most shameful.

    ~Soumendra “Shakeela Singh”

  2. Thanks a lot Sir.. For highlighting this ubiquitous but “embarrassing” issue. Am sure any woman who has travelled in India on a regular basis (not just on flights but on buses and trains) has faced these issues atleast once… and of course the statistics speak for themselves. Hope this article makes people more aware – both men and women.

  3. Sir,
    The problem lies not only in educational institutes, but also in government offices. They may have washrooms for ladies, but they don’t have dustbins. Now, where would a lady dispose off sanitary napkin.

  4. sir, gud evng.. At the outset let me congratulate you for writing such a beautiful article and a touchy one for all ladies especially. When I was at that age even I have gone through same feelings almost. Ever wondered what really happens during menstruation, Maybe wanted to talk to mom, sister, or dad about it. But each time said the word “menstruation,” I stuttered, stammered, and could barely pronounce it… I am sure all my female friends will agree to me… Earlier we didn’t have much access to net. all I learnt it by reading from magazines but those ladies who live in rural areas, villages, slums.. are not in a position to afford. When I was posted in one of the air base in haryana and had little authority and opportunity, I went to schools of near by villages along with first lady of the station and conducted informative lectures and camps for ladies on this issues. Also we provided sanitary napkins to all ladies from our charity funds. Believe me it worked wonders.. I think we should continue conducting such lectures because I strongly feel knowledge is power.. when we women have complete, unbiased information, we are empowered to make our own decisions leading to healthy whole lives… thank you

  5. Liked the style of writing and approach towards the subject. To please also add several mechanism to make it happen. While we write on this subject and raise valid points but due to lack of proper mechanism this is not actuated. As you have probed into the subject, you will be able to guide on the way ahead.

  6. Very well said , agree with everything you’ve written. Always found it strange that in many families a girl during her cycle would be barred from entering puja room or kitchen, this was the one function which aided procreation yet it was looked upon as unhealthy and dirty. Yes it is unhygenic , so is defeacating, yet this is considered the greaterof the two evils and dealt with in a severe manner. Another very important point to note is for us women who crib each time it’s time and would wish it away or lament why us ? Or when would be free of it ? Menopause primes us for the onset of many health issues. Besides this , body sag and loss of the taut and youthful frame for some are issues related to menopause, so no matter how uncomfortable ‘those days’ maybe they are in effect a blessing in disguise. And as for many of us on the threshold of bidding farewell to our ‘best friend’ for good , each month she visits is a blessing ,with fervent prayers sent up hoping she will continue being a regular and punctual guest for as long as possible :-))))))))!!!!!!!

  7. Kudos Himanshu, an interesting yet sensitive insight on an issue – most men will feign ignorance. It reminds me of an interesting story of Mr. A. Murugnathan from Tamil Nadu who is an inventor of a machine that manufactures cheapest sanitary napkins. He offers his invention only to NGOs that involve rural women in the manufacturing process. The pack of six pads costs only 13 rupees. Jayashree Industries not only offers cheapest napkins but also employs rural women and spread awareness about hygiene during periods.
    I believe that ads revolving around ‘those days’ have done a great service to women. Television has a great reach, and girls hitting puberty are aware of such hygiene products, thanks to ad breaks in serials like Balika vadhu.

  8. KUDOS Sir, i am all praise for you that you wrote such sensitive issue, only a sensitive human being can write this. There are many men who have made it big career wise but having big stature in society, having loads of wealth is not a big deal. Big deal involves helping society selflessly, giving your time and solving/listening to people’s problems, being sensitive to their woes. Sir, as a teacher you are already giving society learned people but helping people and showing them right path is doing more than a bit. 🙂 Thanks

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