Ahead of Padman's release, six women come together to discuss menstruation
Ahead of the release of a film that talks of that which shall not be spoken, six women gather to discuss menstruation, without the eew and haw!
This writer remembers her first period. It was 1998, she was 15 and it was the fifth class of the day. Her best friend at the time, a boy, accompanied her to the nurse's room, where she was given a sanitary pad. She came out, he gave her a hug, and all was well. This feel-good anecdote will find favour in most privileged homes where "how I got my first period" stories are told. But that's not everyone's reality. As Akshay Kumar's Padman, a film that tells the tale of Arunachalam Muruganantham, a Tamil Nadu-based activist who revolutionised menstrual hygiene, readies for release next month, we wondered if the conversation about "the normalisation of menstruation" has changed perceptions.
We got together six articulate women to chat over at the mid-day office, and here's what they had to say about perception Vs change, men and their reactions, social media, and why PMS is not a four-day, but 30-day problem.
Where we currently stand
Harnidh: Most women in India don't use pads. They still use cloth stuffed with ash, or saw dust.
Medhavinee: In Rajasthan, they use sand. Basically, anything that absorbs.
Harnidh: They can't wash these rags in their homes or at communal taps since it's considered impure. So they wash the cloth in dirty water, unfiltered. A lot of women carry infections derived from fecal matter, and fungal infections because heavy cloth doesn't dry easily.
Medhavinee: Pads are not used, because in India, there is no privacy. Where do you wear it, where do you throw it?
Kavita: Most people on the field, in the slums, say they don't want to talk about it. It's dirty. They say, if you discuss the issue, we will stop you from coming into our neighbourhood. If you ask the women, what do you do when you get your period, they say, we sit quietly. And when their husbands get to know, they are told to sleep separately. Young girls are told to never mention it, especially in front of their fathers. They can't touch an idol, or sit in for ceremonies. What has changed though, is that mothers and daughters are talking.
Sheetal: The movie might just become a conversation starter. In India, what we need to battle first is lack of hygiene. We need to push the pad, just so that we can avoid infection and aspire to good women's health.
Renuka: After seeing the Padman trailer, my husband — after 15 years of marriage — asked me, does it pain that much? I am menstruating today, and it's the first time I have ever tried wearing a pad. My 13-year-old daughter gave it to me. I am used to the bulkier cloth, so I have been wondering, kahan hai yeh pad? I can barely feel it.
"You're so moody today, are you on your period?"
Harnidh: When someone asks me that, I say, 'yes. Kya kar loge?' I am in pain, why should I apologise for it? I talk about it with my male friends, because you need to normalise the conversation. Education begins with one person. But I think women deny that they are moody or uncomfortable. They shouldn't. To say, aurat ho, toh saho, is wrong. Don't be a sansheelta ki murti.
Priyanka: Advertisements for sanitary pads are atrocious — a woman in white pants is shown jumping. It says, you can do anything, you are a warrior. Every woman has a different period. It [the ads] doesn't normalise anything. My mother used to have crazy periods. She eventually turned to a pill to ease
the pain and flow, but it led to a blood clot that left her paralysed.
Medhavinee: Women need to decide what is normal for them. One of the most common question we get about these ads is — why is the blood shown blue? A woman's role is to procreate. When she is not carrying a child, she is menstruating, deviating from her 'role'. And that's not acceptable.
Availability of tools of menstrual hygiene
Medhavinee: We must look at a majority of women, who live in slums. They can't discuss this with their fathers. How will they approach a male stranger at a chemist to buy a pad? Asking for a pad is the toughest part. A male salesman will wrap it in a brown paper, seal it in a plastic bag and hand it to you. Availability and accessibility in this case are not the same thing.
Social media and reactions
Priyanka: Reactions to my menstruation art series which was about normalising the period, were shocking. Women from privileged homes said, during their period, their mothers ask them to sit in a separate room, and eat from a different plate. My grandmother asked my father, "Why is Priyanka talking about these things?"
The way ahead: Menstrual cups?
Sheetal: Cups are gaining popularity, especially among young women. But the device needs constant emptying and cleaning.
Madhivinee: This debate is related to virginity. How can a woman of morals insert anything into her vagina? Most Indian women don't know their bodies. They think urine, babies, blood and stools, come from the same place. So, first we educate them about their bodies. India lacks clean toilets. How is a girl going to wash anything, let alone a cup, when people are lined up outside waiting for their turn?
The last word
Madhivinee: The goal should be to make the period commonplace. You breathe in, breathe out. You eat today, you crap the next morning. Here, the body cleanses, and you menstruate. We must talk to men about it. Men have nocturnal emissions, we have the period. Normal. Simple.
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