India Interior

‘I touched the pickle’

Swapna Majumdar | Updated on January 12, 2018 Published on June 02, 2017

It’s a myth, period Sapna Maurya with her mother swapna majumdar   -  Picasa

Young women in small towns are questioning traditional taboos

Sapna Maurya always knew what not to do during the ‘dreaded’ five days when she got her periods. She was not to visit the temple, or participate in any religious function. The kitchen was out of bounds and, under no circumstances was she to touch the pickle jar.

Having strictly followed these rules laid down by her mother ever since she started menstruating, the 15-year-old, like all her friends in Ramapur gram panchayat of Mirzapur district, Varanasi, was initially sceptical when told it was a myth that they could contaminate food items with a mere touch. “We were told that menstruation was a normal process that all girls went through when they attained puberty and there was nothing impure about it. Once it was explained to us scientifically, I was convinced,” said Maurya.

But neither her mother nor her friends were swayed. Maurya knew she needed to do something to demonstrate there was no shame or stigma in menstruating. As head of the young women’s self-help group (YWSHG) formed in her panchayat by the Rajiv Gandhi Mahila Vikas Pariyojana, (RGMVP), a not-for-profit for women’s empowerment in Uttar Pradesh, she wanted to lead by example.

So she decided to touch the pickle jar during her periods without telling her mother. “When nothing happened to the pickle, I told my mother what I had done. Since then my mother has never stopped me from touching the pickle,” she said proudly.

When she shared this experience with her friends, they asked her to talk to their mothers. She managed to convince their mothers and grandmas too.

Not only Maurya, many adolescent girls are challenging menstrual taboos and myths. In the neighbouring district of Gorakhpur, Pratima Kumari, a Std VIII student, also a member of YWSHG, was able to convince her mother that she could visit the temple when she was menstruating. “Since I received RGMVP training on adolescent reproductive and sexual health, I could influence her with facts,” she said.

So far, the organisation has reached out to 7,309 YWSHGs, each with a membership of 10-12 unmarried girls aged 13-21, with the help of the Hindi version of Menstrupedia, a comicbook and guide to periods for young girls that dispels myths. Maurya even persuaded the principal of the local school to install an incinerator for safe disposal of sanitary pads. The first of its kind in her panchayat, this is a huge achievement considering 2.8 million adolescent girls miss school in UP every month and 1.9 million leave school due to menstruation, according to UNICEF.

The writer is a Delhi-based journalist

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Published on June 02, 2017
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