To read this post, you might have to take a recap and read the previous post titled “A Monthly Misery”.
This topic of imposing misery on women during menstruation is so broad, that it demanded a second post. Apart from the endless dinner time discussions, I got a lot of responses from friends and family. Where a majority of them tried to give me reasons to justify the attitude towards menstruation in the past and present, a few lambasted at this attitude offering no excuse to this type of separatist behavior. The latter lot also ridiculed me for even trying to justify these regressive customs.
While debating with these different mindsets, I came across a couple of movies that dealt with this issue. First one is a short story in a National Award winning Marathi movie titled Gandha (meaning, scent), directed by Sachin Kundalkar. Do watch this movie if you get a chance. I think the full movie is available on youtube. This movie is a collection of three short stories. The first story went on to become an inspiration for a ridiculous Hindi movie, Aiyya, which was successful in damaging the innocence of the original story, but that is for another time. The last story in Gandha deals with the topic of our interest here. The title of this last story in the movie was “A Woman Sitting Aside”. With a very apt title, the story goes on to describe the plight of a woman who goes into her monthly menstrual cycle. She is constantly taunted by her mother-in-law because her menstruation meant that she has not conceived in that month. On the other hand, her sister-in-law goes into labor and has a second child, all during the time when our protagonist is “sitting aside”. Because of the separatist attitude, the woman in her menstrual cycle in the story is not allowed to do any of the house work while her mother-in-law, single handedly runs around helping her daughter in labor. While “sitting aside” on the loft of the house, all she craves for is the scent of a new born baby.
Women, in olden times and even today, in some places, perform rigorous physical activities to earn their daily bread and to run their house. For e.g., toiling in the fields, fetching water from the wells, cleaning, etc. Menstrual cycle was painful and unhygienic (as mentioned before) and hence, this sort of segregation helped them take some rest from their hard physical work. If there was so much of a positive intention behind this act, then why was there a constant taunting and negative attitude when women started menstruating? For e.g. a dialog in the movie I discussed above says “you were planning a nice holiday when you knew there is going to be so much work at home”. Funnily enough, a few of my friends told me that they did start using this separatist “planning a holiday” attitude for their own benefit. If they wanted to skip some pooja or a religious function, they would lie that they have their menstrual cycle going on and spare themselves from attending it.
The second movie dealing with this topic is a documentary film, called “Menstrual Man”. It was filmed recently, to honor the efforts of an ordinary man, who started a revolution of manufacturing cheap sanitary pads for rural women. You can watch the trailer on http://www.menstrualman.com and purchase the full 63 minute movie for $3.99. I regard this movie as a big drop in the ocean of erasing this taboo of menstruation.
Although the films I mentioned above have a rural base, the situation is no different in urban cities of India. We can possibly come up with a log of current incidents when we have been politely asked to “sit out”. And it is during these times, I feel, that we need to go a long way to liberate from this regressive attitude towards menstruation.