Menstrual Taboos and Restrictions

It was a cold wintry evening in the month of December I saw my friend Dimpy, sleeping on the floor on a coir mattress, covering herself with a blanket, shivering with cold and simultaneously, suffering from high fever. Shocked after seeing my friend in such a pitiful plight, I was forced to ask her parents the reason behind letting their daughter sleep on the floor even though she was having high temperature. Her father was quick in replying to my question with a stern eye-to-eye contact, and said that he is very stringent about maintaining the rules and regulations while his daughter is menstruating – it might pollute the atmosphere and make the house impure!

Yes, menstrual cycle or periods are considered a badge of impurity and uncleanness in many societies of the world since ages. However, the extent of considering it impure and putting restrictions upon it differs from society to society. In many Indian families, it is apparent that this stigma of impurity has led to imposing constraints during this sensitive time and, the myths associated with it is prevalent not only in the rural areas but also is in ascendancy in many urban places.

In a woman’s life, the metamorphosis from a girl to a lady has to pass through various changes and of course, via the passage of menstruation, which, from the start to cessation plays a pivotal role. Periods manifest the probability of fecundity in a woman, and, attribute the succession of the human race in a panoramic view. Although it is essential for the procreation of progeny, it has always been under wraps – under the sheet of taboos, myths and restrictions!

Over those days, in many household, a woman is made to believe that she is impure and any slight touch of her would make everything around her impure as well. Tainted and unclean she is and so, neither she is allowed to cook nor enter the kitchen. Bed is not allowed; instead, floor is preferred for her, irrespective of winter or summer. The curtains of the doors of the house would be raised to a much higher level so as to prevent the slightest touch of hers. She has to keep herself separated from others and do her laundry at another place of the house. Sitting on the sofa or entering the pooja room is strict no and a long list of rules levied on her goes on. The beliefs in such absurdities have been scripted in the social milieu. But this has put me to question on myself: Is this where we have reached in the 21st century?

I also do aver with the fact that the rules and restrictions during the cycle must have been made due to some reason — may be due to lack of hygiene, medical problems, and lack of medical problems. But today, when we do have many medical facilities for maintaining hygiene and can take proper care of our health, why do people still got stuck to the age-old taboos of impurity? I don’t understand why people subscribe to such taboos!

Today, on one hand we preach gender equality, while on the other, we still practise many menstrual myths and restrictions; and clutching on to some old wives’ tales. Some families still believe in the myth about damage caused to the pickles if a menstruating woman touches it. Well, I am clueless on how valid or invalid this convention is. But, to testify against this myth, I myself touched a bottle of bamboo shoot pickle but it did not get damaged!

Ironically, if a woman menstruates, she is deemed to be impure and, if she does not get her periods she is stamped as an unfortunate woman who would not be able to bear a child. Either ways, it’s degrading to a woman’s status. A period brings with it many uncomfortable physical and psychological vagaries in a girl or a woman. Throughout those days, a girl or a woman experiences emotional disturbances, mood swings, or might feel weak and sick. In this situation, the only light of hope for care and understanding is a mother for her daughter, and, a husband for his wife. They should always palliate her problems, be supportive of her and, should make her feel loved and wanted instead of alienating her by following the age-old taboos and restrictions. But my survey found that many families don’t do that!

Mentioning about this, it strikes a chord about an incident in Guwahati a couple of years back – I saw a mother confining her daughter to sit and eat separately in separate utensils as she was undergoing her monthly periods. But what shuddered me was the scene of the mother tossing a chapatti onto her plate from a much higher height so that the mother’s hand did not touch the dish – it might pollute her through the daughter, who, in turn, was holding the dish. It pains me to think that how could a mother treat her daughter, whom she had kept in her womb for nine months, as untouchable.

A woman has to understand another woman’s problem with empathy. But the paradox is that the women themselves make taboos and restrictions during periods. They conjure every possible way to make a girl follow certain rules and enjoin restrictions in the name of taboos and stigma from one generation to another. Eventually, without any question, women follow the restrictions instinctively.

As periods is considered as impure instinctively, so many women prefer not to visit the temple for the fear that God might curse them and also the pooja might get futile. This reminds me of an incident in Nagaon , where my friend had started her monthly cycle just after entering into a temple for pooja ; and this had created panic into her mind that God might punish her for that. Well, this has really baffled me to think about the fact that why will God curse her as after all, God bestows periods upon women for reproduction. It’s simply God’s blessing!

While menstruating, a woman is neither allowed to enter temples nor pray to God because it is believed that her impurity would pollute everything. But, I don’t consider menstruation as a hindrance to women who want to pray or to fully accomplish their religious duties. God never dispersed upon it and never considered it to be impure. It’s just a man-made concept. But, it’s true that if someone does prefer to go to temple to offer prayer to God or to perform religious duties during periods, it should be simply out of respect, not to make it impure or unclean.

I am not against anyone’s belief. I don’t even want to debunk the existing taboos and restrictions imposed in our society. But, I often wonder why people take periods or menstruation as impure and pollutant, though it has certain physical and psychological effects in a woman. It is a normal biological process with a natural physical excretion that every woman has to undergo on a monthly basis. But the crux is that one has to give importance to hygiene, cleanliness, and healthy periods instead of covering it with stigma of impurity and myth!

Menstrual Taboos