Breaking the Chains of Menstrual Taboos
Santoshi's Courageous Battle for Change
Her first period came cloaked in the darkness of the night. Santoshi, a young girl hailing from the remote tribal village of Chhindwada in Darbha block, Bastar district, Chhattisgarh, awoke to a bewildering experience. Unaware and confused, she was calmly guided by her mother, who embraced her with love and reassured her that this was a natural process for a girl of her age.
Post-menarche, Santoshi, now 18 years old, found herself caught in the web of age-old cultural beliefs and stifling restrictions surrounding menstruation that prevailed in her village. Every month, she obediently followed the practices her mother had taught her, silently bearing the weight of traditions that she knew needed to change.
She realized that altering the prevailing mindset would not be an overnight transformation. The entrenched traditional beliefs and taboos surrounding menstruation in her village were deeply ingrained and resistant to change. However, Santoshi held on to a glimmer of hope and resolved to transform people's perceptions, one person at a time.
As she completed her Class 12 exams, Santoshi took it upon herself to be an agent of change. She understood that change required patience and persistence. "I cannot change things overnight," she confessed, "but whenever I get the chance, I educate people. I educate my own family, and I can already see some change in them."
The village imposed severe restrictions on girls during their menstrual cycles. They were forbidden from participating in household chores, entering the kitchen, and even accessing the room dedicated to worshipping their deity. Santoshi had witnessed these practices firsthand, and it only fueled her determination to challenge them.
Before I joined Yuvodaya, my family followed all these odd practices. But I see a change in my mother, father, and brother now. I am allowed to enter the kitchen and fetch water from the well. Yet, cooking and entering the room where our deity's idol resides remains forbidden during my periods.
Santoshi faced opposition, even within her own home. Yet, she remained steadfast in her mission, encouraging girls to speak up and resist coercion. She fearlessly spoke about menstruation, defying the deep-rooted taboos that shrouded it in shame. "These practices must end," she proclaimed. "Periods should be treated as a natural process, not something dirty." She dedicated her spare time to educating women and girls above 18 years of age in her village, imparting knowledge about the harmful prohibitions and misconceptions surrounding menstruation.
In her tribal village, one prevalent belief stipulated that if a menstruating girl fetched water, it rendered the water impure for the male members of the household. Some families even relegated menstruating girls to sleep on the floor. However, Santoshi's family stood apart from such practices. They welcomed her participation in daily chores, including fetching water for the family, without complaint.
For Santoshi, Yuvodaya became a catalyst for change. This volunteer-based program led by the Bastar district administration and supported by UNICEF, served as a lifeline for her and others. It empowered her to bridge the gap between knowledge and action, equipping her with the tools to challenge archaic beliefs.
As a volunteer, she became a beacon of inspiration, fielding questions and sharing her newfound wisdom with those who sought it. Santoshi recognized the enormity of her task, as she grappled with a deeply rooted social fabric unwilling to relinquish its cultural beliefs surrounding menstruation. Nevertheless, she pressed on, bravely forging ahead.
Despite the immense uphill battle, Santoshi's spirit remained unyielding. She yearned for a brighter future, one where menstruation was celebrated rather than stigmatized—a future where girls could embrace their periods with pride and without fear. Her words resounded with emotional intensity, "The prohibitions and age-old taboos around menstruation should no longer shackle us.”