How the stain of menstrual taboos, social stigma is slowly fading

The community in Manipur, which is steep in traditions and culture, is gradually giving up the old practice and beliefs associated with menstruation

Amid the fast evolving age of technology and increase in literacy rate in the society, both men and women alike are seen advancing equally, keeping pace with the changing world scenario. However, despite modernisation of life at its peak, social taboos continue to dog the Indian society. In Manipur, steep in traditions and cultural norms, womenfolk continue to face the struggle against social taboos shrouding menstruation. However, with the onslaught of modernity, more and more people are giving up old practices and beliefs.

Women empowerment plays a key factor in the struggle and development of Manipur. In fact, the main market in the center of the state capital Imphal, Khwairamband Ima Keithel, which is the only market run by only women vendors, stands as a significant mark of the identity of women in the state as strong, enterprising and progressive.

However, till today, social stigma strung to traditions and cultural beliefs is prevalent in some pockets of the society, silencing acquired modern knowledge, and women continue to face the brunt of it. More so, when they attain the age of puberty.

Speaking exclusively to Imphal Free Press, a well-known folk artiste, Irungbam Padmabati said women in the Manipuri society have to follow certain do’s and don’ts when they come to womanhood, and their lives start to take a different role when they come of age.

"Since forefather when a girl attains womanhood, she has to stay inside the house for the whole menstrual cycle period which would last five-seven days, Padmabati said, adding, "It is believed that if a woman gets conceived during the menstrual cycle, it will bring bad omen for the family in the future. The child which was conceived will not bring a good future for the parents also,"

During the menstrual cycle a woman cannot attend social ceremonies. She cannot enter the temple and kitchen of the house, Padmabati said.

In earlier times, during the menstruation period, women are advised to stay in a separate room constructed outside the house. She is kept away from the family. It is ominous for a man to come near a woman during the menstrual period, she added.

In most of the rural areas and even in urban areas, during the menstrual period, women abstain from participating in ritual ceremonies and other domestic works. In the Manipur society a minimum percentage of family are exempted from the societal norms.

Associate professor of the Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, Regional Institute of Medical Science (RIMS), Dr Akoijam Usharani also said in an exclusive interaction with the Imphal Free Press that though there are some families who still follow the social beliefs, many families have started ignoring the taboos.

She said a woman's menstrual cycle is just a physiological change with the coming of womanhood. Menstruation in women is not a disease but a physiological change with the changing of hormones in females.

“The taboos on menstruation that are being practiced since our forefathers might have some reason behind it. Our forefathers were clever. Most of the women in our society also have to engage in all the household work starting from kitchen work to others. Women avoid doing household chores during the period might be because of the need to take rest for five days a month,” she asserted.

She said in the olden days awareness on the benefits of using sanitary pads were absent due to the reason in those days women are kept away from doing household works. But at present most women have proper knowledge on the benefit of using sanitary pads, because of which the number of infections during childbirth and other infections has been decreasing," said Usharani.

"Discharge of blood during the menstruation period is normal blood and in the Manipuri society blood is considered ominous and these also indicates hygienic practice that has been followed since our forefathers," she added.

According to science, there are no foods to be given up for a woman during the menstruation period. With the changing of living standard, diet and increase in literacy rate, woman menopause has also increased to 50 years, said Usharani.

To create awareness on menstruation and related social stigma being faced by woman across the country, many film makers have started producing awareness films based on woman’s menstruation. ‘Pad-man’ can be cited as an example.

During the COVID-19 lockdown in the state, some NGOs distributed sanitary kits to women living below poverty line. One of the youth-based NGOs also organized three-day training programme on making washable sanitary pads for women inmates in Manipur central jail in January 2019 with the support from superintendent of police (jail). It is stated that the workshop was organized after considering the problem of women hygiene that most of the women had been facing as social taboos.

First Published:July 24, 2020, 12:41 p.m.

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