Mumbai — When she first got her period, 20-year-old Rahenaz Sayed would often be ostracized in her own home.
“My aunt would not allow me to sit on the bed; I had to wash my comb, even my hair scrunchie after my period. My family told me that I couldn’t pray and I couldn’t touch hair oil as it would become ‘impure’, she said.
Rahenaz stopped telling her family about her period and would suffer the severe backaches it brought to her silently. “I had to smuggle my sanitary napkins in and out of the toilet or else all hell would break loose,” she said.
Shaped by these experiences, Rahenaz and two other girls — Mubhashirin Naik and Zareen Sayed — are now charting a silent revolution on the streets of Mumbra.
The three girls are trying to ensure that menstruation is no longer considered a taboo. Shattering misconceptions about menstrual cycles, these girls are pushing the envelope in a suburb where women have traditionally been relegated to a secondary role.
“We thought, why not talk of an issue which women don’t speak about and suffer silently? We suffered due to silences surrounding menstruation and didn’t want others to go through the same,” said 18-year Mubhashirin.
Their research showed that for many, the issue remained a taboo — something that even mothers were not ready to discuss with their daughters. “Things are changing but most mothers only tell their daughters they will start bleeding and a sanitary napkin will help them, nothing beyond it,” said Mubashirin, whose mother simply gave her a pad when she got her period and told her that it’s a “good thing”.
With a lot of insights from the research, the girls are going about debunking a number of misconceptions about menstruation. They say they are not even willing to spare an issue as sensitive as religion.
“We saw there were many myths attached to religion and menstruation. Our elders told us the scriptures said women could not pray while menstruating since they were impure,” said Rahenaz.
The group, after reading the scriptures for themselves, found that this was not the case. “Scriptures in fact said women must rest while they are menstruating and hence, shouldn’t pray. It nowhere calls menstruating women ‘impure’, like our elders said,” she added.
The group has been holding meetings with girls from across Mumbra. However, they will not stop here. “We are also planning to initiate dialogue with girls and women across other slum communities in the city,” said Mubhashirin.
(This appeared in Hindustantimes on April 27, 2015)