Is my blood also pure?
In this post, Sakshi Srivastava talks about conversations around menstruation, and focuses on how caste affects menstrual health and well-being for girls from lower caste communities.
Menstruation, especially in low-income communities falls in a complicated web of allied issues. It is not possible to see it in isolation. While the prominent issues which act as a deterrent to a safe menstrual health would be access to information and resources, economic status, patriarchal mindset, power structures, there is another part of social identity which sadly lies in more murky waters. The impact of caste-based discrimination on menstrual health. For ages, underprivileged communities have borne the brunt of the caste structures and have been denied any and all forms of opportunities for development. Talks on menstruation seldom focus on this oftentimes hidden part of the problem. How do women and girls from low caste communities have far worse menstrual health than their counterparts from upper caste, savarna communities?
The below case is an attempt to understand how this manifests and why this needs to be worked upon.
“Is my blood also pure?”, I did not understand the depth this question carried when it was first posed to me by this 12-year-old girl in one of my sessions. After explaining the logic behind why period blood is just as normal, it is not uncommon for girls to express wonderment and ask such questions. For me, it was a purely rhetorical question. But, for Neha (changed name), it wasn’t the case.
Coming from an underprivileged community of Ahirwars, Neha, like countless women in her community, grew up believing that her blood was more impure than other people’s menstrual blood, just by virtue of her social identity. While doing the beliefs and practices session, the class discussed one particular belief surrounding touching the Tulsi plant. The other girls reiterated that because Tulsi is sacred, and they themselves are considered impure, hence no touching the plant. “But, I don’t touch the plant because it is Brahmin and we are lower castes. We don’t touch it otherwise it is double the sin.” For a moment, I did not know what to say. The well informed, socially conscious woke upper-caste woman in me, was just reminded so brutally of another power that I yield in the classroom. It was possible that she understood that biologically periods are natural, nothing to be assumed dirty or impure. But, for her dirty and impure as so much more than mere biology. It is also the fact that dirty is not exclusive for her just during menstruation. Impure is just not restricted to menstrual blood for her. It is also a part of her identity that she has been handed down to by the structures she did not consent to be part of.
The other girls in my class were thrilled with the prospect of trying out the plant experiment. But, Neha was skeptical of doing it. “My mother says that we aren’t supposed to touch the plant on normal days, too. We aren’t allowed.” With each question this young girl posed, it made me more restless. I asked her to touch it discreetly and see what happens. But, all this while, I kept thinking that all the myths around menstruation, that we try to counter with logic, can this also be countered the same way? When I say that period blood isn’t impure, does it mean the same to all the women from all the groups? When women say they do not use pads, is it just because they do not have access to it, or using cloth is a part of the culture of maintaining ritual purity for some of them? When Neha is asked not to touch some of her classmates during menstruation, is it just because she menstrual blood is dirty, or is it because her touch is more threatening to the upper caste purity than someone from the same social group?
After sitting in the session, I could see Neha trying to think past what had been dictated in her family. Trying to make sense of this new information that was logical and completely contrary to what she had been believing about herself all her life. But, at the same time, struggling to understand why certain practices are followed. Is it just because she is a girl who will go on to become a woman, or is it because she is a lower caste girl who will go on to become a lower caste woman?
It is absolutely not possible to see menstruation without taking these factors into consideration. Menstruation can’t become a non-issue when one part of the community believes that the other part is eternally impure just by the virtue of their birth. The access to safe menstrual practices still remains a privilege mostly accessible to upper-caste women. The struggle to make it a non-issue has to take into account that where does it intersect with the caste lines.
About the author
Sakshi Srivastava She is currently working as Period Fellow in Bhopal, where she interacts with adolescent girls and women from low income communities, to create awareness and enable conversations around menstruation. She is passionate about mental health and its intersectional nuances. In her free time, She likes to sculpt and pester the house-cat.
About the fellowship
Sukhibhava is a not-for-profit based out of Bangalore. We work with marginalized women and girls across India to unravel the stigma around menstruation and engage key influencers such as men, adolescent boys and teachers to create a positive socio-cultural environment at home and in schools. The Period Fellowship is a paid 15 month full-time leadership journey designed to nurture future male and female leaders in the Menstrual Health and Hygiene (MHH) ecosystem. The Period Fellowship will bring together young, dynamic fellows from diverse backgrounds, to create awareness on MHH in urban and rural India. We have so far worked with 162,500+ women and adolescent girls across 7 states to make menstruation a non-issue. We’re incredibly excited to be scaling our intervention to include men, adolescent boys and teachers to reach 1.5 million people across India through The Period Fellowship and Period-preneurship over the next 5 years. To apply for The Period Fellowship 2020, visit bit.ly/tpf-20