• kanyakafoundation

“But Grandma, Why?”

Updated: Oct 26, 2021

“Do you know what the midwives did during childbirth in my time ?”, Grandma asks through her wide glasses. “I don’t know”, I say feebly, of course I’m curious to know ! “They used sand, tons of sand that would soak the blood lost during labor and they would throw it. No hassle.” She explains the process, meanwhile I’m perplexed as it sounds disgusting.


My grandma says that I shouldn’t enter the kitchen, I shouldn’t be near the pooja room because I’m impure when on my period. Grandma says that I am so impure that my presence would defile the atmosphere of this holy place. As a young teenager I never understood the concept of ‘purity’ attached to menstruation. In fact the only blood produced without violence, I’m not violating the purity of Nature with my existence. This is natural.


My grandma used a cloth back in her days, she was not allowed to go to school and was made to wear a sari. Mind you, grandma didn’t come from a village, she lived in the city all her life.


The evolution of menstruation products has come a long way - from sand, twigs and cloth to sustainable products like menstrual cups, pads and cloth pads. However, it is quite astonishing that the sheer disregard for menstruators’ health, hygiene and pain is prevalent in households. In India, menstruation also remarks the girl’s transformation into a woman. So, technically you ‘were’ a girl before your first cycle. As a woman, now you have responsibilities. For instance, “Thou must be mature and handle chores, thou shall act like a lady and confine yourself for three days to your bedroom!”


There is no logical explanation to these norms. Everytime someone asks ‘why’ the answer is ‘because it is what it is’. As women we are conditioned to believe that our cycle makes us impure, that our presence might defile someone else’s faith or worse hurt their feelings. So, we remain silent to avoid conflict. We remain in this liminal space of subversiveness and subservience. Where we don’t believe in this mindset but we are unable to emancipate ourselves from this normative culture.




What’s intriguing is that debates on menstrual pain and hygiene have not been discursive enough. The lack of prioritising of menstrual health and hygiene also stems from ignorance. Since the pain experienced by menstruators is relative and variable there is no existing solution for it. Some experience excruciating pain that prevents them from performing routine tasks, some don’t experience these cramps.

However, when this pain is labelled as “hereditary” or “something that women of our family must go through”, it’s again illogical. “Oh any complaints of this pain and we would never hear the end of it, so don’t complain.”, Grandma remarks with stern eyes as she recalls her incidents.

"As women we are conditioned to believe that our cycle makes us impure, that our presence might defile someone else’s faith or worse hurt their feelings. So, we remain silent to avoid conflict. We remain in this liminal space of subversiveness and subservience. Where we don’t believe in this mindset but we are unable to emancipate ourselves from this normative culture."

So, by Grandma’s logic I should live with this pain. I must live through the incompetence of centuries of health care. The pain that women go through is diminished as ‘normal’ or a ‘part of being a woman’. Severe pain is also one of the symptoms of Endometriosis and it shouldn’t be borne. Early detection of this condition can prevent cancer and infertility. Bearing pain does not signify your strength and it is imperative to seek treatment.


This also throws light on cultural notions of shame, menstruators were forced to wash the menstruation cloth in privy and keep it far away from the male eye. It was put to dry in a corner away from sun rays, hence remaining infected. In modern times, the shame is attached to purchasing menstrual products like pads which are wrapped in a black cover to prevent attention.


Another cultural notion attached to period is the stigma surrounding products that require vaginal penetration. Products like tampons, when introduced in the India market were criticised. It was a misconception that such products as inserted inside the vagina might lead to the breaking of the hymen. It would imply that the woman’s virginity is in jeopardy and must be protected. Hence, sanitary napkins and clothes were safer options.


It is proposed to keep in mind that my Grandma comes from a different age. She has witnessed a more regressive and conservative society and hence shouldn’t be judged on her views. However, Grandma and I must engage in conversations for our growth (well at least mine). We must learn from each other, although she does insinuate that I’m too young to speak my mind !



Shreya Sharma is currently pursuing B. A. English Literature from Stella Maris College, Chennai. She likes to engage in subaltern studies and gender ideology. She likes reading, writing, debating and public speaking. She works as an Intern at Kanyaka Foundation.


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