Menstruation is treated as an open secret in a lot of Indian households, universal but still taboo. It is not uncommon across India to find practices of excluding or segregating menstruating women on the basis of their supposed impurity. One reads about such instances fairly often.To form a picture of what it’s like for young girls today, we interviewed four students at Ashoka about their experiences surrounding their periods:
1. How did you first find out about periods?
Shree Thaarshini Sriraman (UG20): I didn’t, really. My mom didn’t explain them until I first menstruated and didn’t say much about it even then. I guess 8th-grade biology taught me the most about it.
Shubhangi Gupta (UG20): I saw an ad on TV for Whisper in, like, 4th grade, and my mom asked me what I thought it was about. I told her it was a type of diaper for women so that they don’t pee their pants. Then my mom told me that we bleed and that it’s not pee. I was traumatized for quite some time.
Pratiti (UG20): From a friend whose older sister had periods. I was eleven.
Rathi Kashi (UG20): My mom told me about it when I was about eleven or twelve, I think.
2. What rules or customs, if any, do you have at home regarding menstruation?
Shubhangi: We don’t really have household rules, but I sometimes use my periods as an excuse to avoid praying or entering the temple, since I don’t really enjoy doing that.
Shree: Wash our hair on the days we menstruate, with oil on the first and third day.
Pratiti: None. We did not have any household rules regarding it.
Rathi: No rules; we just had to wrap the pad with newspaper and throw it in the red (medical waste) dustbin.
3. Can you freely talk about your period with the men in your family? Why or why not?
Shubhangi: Yes, I can talk freely about periods with my dad and brother; I can also talk to my grandad, but I’m not as comfortable with him to do so. We generally say things like, “Oh I have my periods, so I can’t go swimming,” or “I’m dying with cramps, please give me medicine or a hot pack”.
I’m not really sure why we are comfortable, though. My mom talks openly about it to my dad as well.
Shree: Not really. With my dad, yes. I’m just not close to the rest of my family, so I don’t speak to them much at all, which might be why.
Pratiti: Not really. The only man in the family is my father. I do talk about cramps and stuff, but nothing more.
Rathi: Yes, my dad and brother are especially curious about “girl” issues and they’ve learnt about and heard quite a lot about periods, so there are no inhibitions with the males. My dad gets pads for my mom or me sometimes.
4. Have you experienced social stigma due to a period stain?
Shubhangi: As kids, we used to freak out about staining our pants or something, but we became chill later on when we realized that no one cared.
Shree: No. Never.
Pratiti: Not that I remember. Maybe once or twice in school?
Rathi: I haven’t faced any social stigma per se, but I get paranoid trying to cover up stains and prevent leaks (which happens quite often).
It has been heartening to see through these interviews that attitudes towards menstruation– at least in middle-class households– are changing. However, it’s important to keep in mind that the above responses represent only a tiny demographic of the country and that girls and women all over India still suffer unduly because of the stigmatization of menstruation. We have come a long way, and we have a long way left to go.
Edited by Devashree Somani
Images curated by Viraj Dhirenmalani