The Indian Stigma Against Menstruation

Disclaimer: This article should not be an excuse to make generalizations about all Indian people or Hinduism. This is not how everyone acts. Other cultures and every other religion have extremist beliefs as well.  

I have never spoken up about my culture’s stigma against menstruating women before due to the fear of being judged by my non-Indian peers. Often, certain cultural ideals incline others to view us ethnic people as backwards or cause them to make racist remarks. However, as much as I cherish my Indian heritage, I think it is time I speak up about an issue that has bothered me since I was ten years old: menstruation. 

In Indian culture (and other cultures), conservative extremists believe that a menstruating woman is impure. They are not allowed to enter temples or touch religious deities because they are impure during that time of the month. In some extreme cases (usually in the past) women are supposed to be isolated from their families for a few days (not being allowed to cook or go about their regular activities) simply because they are on their periods. They usually sit in a separate room, eating out of their own designated plate, because nobody is supposed to come in contact with their presence. Although I personally never had to do this, I can imagine how hard, embarrassing, and unfair it must be for the people who have to. 

There have been some instances in the media of people policing menstruation and women:

This misogynistic “religious figure” said that if a woman cooks on her period, she will be born as a female dog in her next life as punishment. 

This temple forbids women of menstruating age (about age 10 to age 50) from entering because they are “impure.”

Or this school that forced women to strip and show the warden their underwear to prove they weren’t menstruating. 

It is considered unholy to visit the temple, come near the prayer room, or to cook the prasadam (holy food that is offered to God) simply because a woman is menstruating.

I also have always had to walk on eggshells when on my period at other people’s houses, hiding the garbage or taking it out discreetly, because it is considered that unhygienic. 

I’ve always wondered: why is it so important that women avoid basic daily tasks during that time of the month? When asking others about it, I have been told “It is to give women a break to rest,” but I think that is nonsense, because if someone really cared about a woman’s wellbeing, they would tell her to rest up, and wouldn’t imply that she is “gross.” Even when provided rest, a woman shouldn’t be confined to her spaces. Furthermore, a woman should have autonomy over herself when she is menstruating. If a woman wants to relax during her period, that is up to her. If she wants to cook, exercise, or do physical activities, that is also up to her. 

Personally, I think this is all a scheme to treat women as second class citizens. If the Gods made women’s bodies this way, then why are we afraid of offending their own creation? 

This just proves that the stigma against menstruation is a sexist social construct. 

It is sad how people think they can control women’s bodies. Some women themselves have been conditioned to believe they are so impure that they isolate themselves. I think this is a result of internalized misogyny and conservative upbringing. After being conditioned to believe they are impure while menstruating for so long, they actually believe they are impure. 

I know it’s hard, but some traditions must be broken. Sometimes it is okay to deviate from the unreasonable things that elders teach us. We can go to the temple, pray, cook, and do all the other activities we love while menstruating, because it is completely okay. Or we can choose to lay in bed all day until the pain subsides. It is up to us! We are not infecting anyone. 

My period “germs” are not going to exude through my pores and infect anyone’s soul.

I love my Indian heritage, and I wouldn’t change it for anything in the world, but some things have to change. More people need to learn respect and decency regarding such personal matters. 

To all the girls in the world who are fighting the stigma against menstruation: you are strong and powerful. You are not dirty or impure. There is nothing wrong with you. We are not second class citizens.