As a young girl, Shanti was made to sleep and eat with animals during her monthly menstrual cycle. “I was locked outside home whenever my periods came. I was not allowed to touch water. Only place I could go to was our cowshed. I would sit there till my periods got over,” Shanti cries.
And Shanti is not the only one. Her native village puts bizarre restrictions related to a girl’s periods. Most women like Shanti are sent to separate huts until they become ‘clean’ again. They are banned from cooking, going to temples, or even coming near a person who has taken a bath.
The taboo is so deep-seated that no one wants to talk about it. Discussions on menstrual hygiene are hushed. It’s a trick Shanti learnt on her own. “My friends said I should use straw as a blotter. But I found it very uncomfortable. So I would use newspapers. I would keep lots and lots of newspapers in my room for this, she informs.
As she got older, she started using fabric – washed and recycled. Anything I used, my clothes would still become stained. My mother used to get so angry with me that she would order me not to come in her sight and remain hidden
Being from a lower caste, only added to her woes. The restriction of staying away from the community well was so strong, that she would get beaten up even for looking at it. Then one hot day she tried to ask for a drink of water from a person near the well. Someone shouted that the girl was dirty. She anticipated another beating and decided to make a run for it.
She ran away from home and came to Delhi more than ten years ago. Here for the first time she discovered sanitary napkins. “I had never even heard of them. But it was so comfortable that I cried thinking why I did not get these earlier,” she says.
Shanti says she felt surprised at facing no hostility whatsoever because of her caste and her being ‘unclean’. “No one looks at me differently here. I am just another woman trying to work here. Everyone is busy in their own life.” Coming to Delhi not only gave her confidence but also the love of her life - her husband and two kids.
But she has not forgotten the woes she faced as a young girl. “Now whenever I go back to my village, I make sure to tell my nieces to stop using rags. I give them some sanitary napkins so that they don’t have to go through what I went.
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