Taboo - No More!
Taboo - No More!
Nia sat at her writing desk, a pen held in her hand and a book on the table to note down her thoughts. She had to write an article for the literary club’s Independence day magazine. She had started the literary club a few years back at her workplace and it had exceeded her own expectations with the number of avid readers and authors who had joined. Nia shifted in her chair, a low ache hurting her back and pelvic area. Ignoring it, she tried to concentrate on the topic the magazine committee had chosen. “My vision for a Free India “.
They had given various prompts like girl child education, freedom from child labour, liberty from the caste system, and so on, but Nia was unable to pinpoint the topic she wanted to write on. The slight ache in her back changed to a low throbbing pain. Her monthly menses had started and the first day was a painful affair. Unwittingly, as she gazed out of the window her thoughts took her down memory lane to when she had begun her first steps to womanhood. She was born and brought up in a sleepy hamlet, not quite the city which it claimed to be. Her mother had told her only what was needed when the menses had first made their appearance. Maybe she had hoped that the all-girl school that Nia attended would provide the necessary education. Nia recalled the weirdly funny class that they once had, where the teacher drone on showing some scary looking diagrams and all the girls had tittered uncontrollably. And then, when the teacher had asked if there was a swimmer in the class, imagine the sole swimmer’s horror as 60 odd pairs of eyes turned in unison towards her.
Being a girls-only school made the monthly menses still bearable, but then came the three years of graduation where she had to travel a good 60kms to college on a public transport bus. The whole journey would take about 2 hours and it was a scary nightmare. Nia would only wear dark clothes and miss classes on those days.
Slowly as she stepped out from her sheltered upbringing and her eyes opened to the world outside, Nia realized a great many things. The way in which the man at the pharmacy would quickly wrap up the pads as if they were invisible goods that he was smuggling, and placing them in a black bag which ironically shouted out to everybody that the girl was either carrying fish or sanitary pads. Nia chuckled at the memory. “Thank God for supermarkets and online delivery nowadays,” she thought. She remembered her friend telling her that she hoped she would not have her menses during her sister’s wedding so that she could attend it. She heard about women being banned from entering their kitchens during this period and a friend defending the practice saying that it was only meant to give the lady a rest.
“That is all fine and good if that is what the intent was”, thought Nia sourly. Her servant who was sweeping next to her would have disagreed. She came from a remote corner of India, where her mother-in-law had forced her to have a son at the threat of getting her husband married a second time. Terrified, she had borne 6 girls before begetting a son. She had to spend her menses in a small hut outside their main house, which was infested with mosquitoes and was damp and dark. She had to leave her kids behind as she and her husband made their way to the city to work but now, at one time, one or more of her daughters would spend their time in the squalid hut during their menses.
Going back to her youth, what had shocked Nia the most was when she realized that the puberty and subsequent menses were actually making a woman out of a girl. She was being prepared for an ultimate role, the role of giving birth to her progeny, the role of being a mother, the role of continuing their family line. And the very same people who took pride in their strapping sons and beautiful daughters would prevent the mother from entering the kitchen or performing other activities during a very natural process. A process that was as natural as a pubescent boy developing a beard or adapting to a change in his voice.
Nia’s face drooped. Would people in beautiful India where women had made giant strides in every field they had entered, be stopped from being completely free? She had been pleasantly surprised and elated, as the PM had announced from the ramparts of the Red Fort that sanitary pads were being distributed for Rs 1 to ladies who were below the poverty line, but upset when a leading news website had shouted the headline as “Breaking Taboos”. Did they not realize that they had highlighted and shouted the fact that speaking about menses was still a taboo subject in India? Had India not moved into the 21st century yet?
Nia sighed. This would be her vision for her free India. Where a young girl having her first menses be accorded the same respect as a boy who had sprouted his first facial hair. Where women would be free to go and participate in all possible activities, without interference from people who considered them unclean. Where this taboo subject would stop being a taboo subject. Nia looked at her pen and at her blank page and doubts assailed her. Could she write down her vision for the company magazine ? Would the men she worked with start treating her with disdain or start considering her a feminist? Would … ?. A song played on the TV in the living room, filtering through her subconsciousness. “Sarfaroshi ki tamanna ab humaare dil mein hai, dekhna hai zor kitna bazu -e - qatil main hai.. (The spirit of revolution is in my heart. Let me now see how much strength the enemy has…. )
As this feeling reverberated in her soul, Nia took a deep breath and put her pen down to the paper to write her vision for a #Free India.