Wednesday, February 1, 2023
HomeIndiaGovernanceNot just a bar at Sabarimala, menstruation has got women ostracised &...

Not just a bar at Sabarimala, menstruation has got women ostracised & labelled witches

Text Size:

It may not be the primary argument, but the age bar at Sabarimala has often been justified as an attempt to keep out ‘impure’ menstruating women.

Bengaluru: The protests surrounding the Supreme Court decision to allow women of menstruating age into the Sabarimala Temple are said to be rooted in the reigning deity’s vow of celibacy. But several protesters have routinely cited menstruation itself as a reason to keep women of a certain age out.

Prayar Gopalakrishnan, the former president of Travancore Devaswom Board, which manages the Sabarimala Temple, had said in 2016, that they would invent machines to check the “purity” of women devotees.

Arguments in favour of the Sabarimala Temple restrictions invariably tie these two lines of reasoning together: That women would be a “distraction” to male devotees and that menstruating women will defile the premises. Several devotees refute the second argument, but many others hold it up regularly.

Cast out

The taboo around menstruation is not new. In several Hindu households, menstruation is considered unhygienic, and women during their period are not allowed to enter a kitchen or a temple.

In Islam as well, women aren’t allowed to enter places of worship and the Quran instructs people to keep their distance from menstruating women.


Also read: At the heart of Sabarimala Temple’s bar on women lies a story of unrequited love


Some churches ask women to avoid receiving communion, a ritual to show devotion, because menstruation is believed to make them “impure”.

Some schools of Buddhism ban menstruating women from entering temples as well.

Times are changing, but in some conservative households in India, women are actually allocated a different room to stay for the duration of their period, and forced to wash everything they wear and all their bedding afterwards.

Some people also warn the touch of menstruating women can “infect” or “spoil” plants or flowers and some spices, as well as pickle.

Menstruation in writing

Today, there are several reasons we can offer in hindsight for why menstruation is so stigmatised, but they would all be guesses as there simply isn’t enough documentation.

Instances of menstruation and its interpretations are mostly absent in writings and poetry, possibly because most writers, historians, and poets have been men. There have been cave paintings depicting menstruating women, especially in Africa, where menstruation is revered in certain tribal communities.

There have been stories with references to menstruation dating back to the Greek and Egyptian times, especially with the flavour of exposing men to the realities of the female body. But several of these stories tend to have been whitewashed, like the story of Hypatia’s menstrual cloths becoming handkerchiefs in later versions.

In several forms of writing, as the average cycle of a menstrual period is coincidentally similar to that of the moon, women have been associated with witchcraft and supernatural powers. Our own Vedas are quite silent about menstruation, though they are said to include no diktat against menstruation.

In fact, we don’t even know today how much an average woman bled through history. The average amount of menstrual fluid now for women is three tablespoons per cycle, but we can’t tell if it was higher or lower before us.

We don’t know what women used for protection far back in history, although we theorise that they mostly used rags or sticks wrapped in cloths or cotton. After all, it is just over a century ago that commercial sanitary products even became available, and the tampon is less than 100 years old.

One of the common reasons offered for the discriminatory behaviour is that the taboo originally came about as a justification to allow women rest and time away from domestic duties.


Also read: I’m no revolutionary, says 32-year-old Kerala teacher as she readies for Sabarimala trip


Another is hygiene: When women had no access to sanitary napkins or tampons or menstrual cups, they used cloth, which would often have to be washed quickly and be unsanitary. The second reason seems to be the most repeated.

All blood’s the same

However, uncleanness has no scientific basis. Even if it did at some point, it does not anymore. Blood is the same everywhere, although menstrual fluids also do contain tissues and uterine lining.

The use of sanitary hygiene products have made life a lot simpler for menstruating women, who regularly play sports, go to work, party, and just go about their daily lives.

Today, any kind of taboo on menstruation does not make sense. While women do suffer discomfort, prompting debates on monthly leave policies and dependence on painkillers, the questions of hygiene, impurity, and the like are to be thrown out of a window.

Suppression of talk about menstruation, lack of education, and embarrassment about it are issues to be addressed. Temple restrictions exist through customs that are singularly irrelevant in 2018, and as an inclusive society, it is imperative to do away with the taboo surrounding menstruation.

Subscribe to our channels on YouTube & Telegram

Support Our Journalism

India needs fair, non-hyphenated and questioning journalism, packed with on-ground reporting. ThePrint – with exceptional reporters, columnists and editors – is doing just that.

Sustaining this needs support from wonderful readers like you.

Whether you live in India or overseas, you can take a paid subscription by clicking here.

Support Our Journalism

2 COMMENTS

  1. Only some women have pain or other issues during menstruation.others play sports and do all normal activities.if you get a migraine,do people stop touching you because of your sickness?what do you mean by unhealthy?its your sick mind which is unhealthy.you were born coated in the same unhealthy blood.

  2. First of all, answer my question:- why did Hon’ble Justice Indu Malhotra (who is a woman) dissent to the majority judgement ?

    Secondly, the author of this article has admitted that women do suffer discomfort (during periods). This clearly proves that they are unhealthy in those days. Thus, avoiding to touch them is akin to quarantining.

    Thirdly, the author claims that uncleanness has no scientific basis. She should know that present-day health science is not omniscient; rather, it is highly error-prone.
    {
    Following passage was excerpted on 2018 September 05 from https://www.newscientist.com/article/mg23130880-300-the-scary-reality-of-medical-uturns-and-how-to-stop-them/

    23 August 2016

    The scary reality of medical U-turns, and how to stop them

    From peanut allergy to cancer, total reversals in medical advice are strikingly common. Why did it go so wrong, and how can we make sure we get it right next time?

    By Kayt Sukel

    Tiffany McLeod followed the advice to the letter. She has food allergies, and was worried that her children might too. Her doctor recommended that she avoid eating nuts while pregnant or breastfeeding, and to keep the kids away from them until the age of 3. “You want to do what’s best for your child,” she says. “And you figure that your doctor knows what that is.”

    Her doctor was following American Academy of Pediatrics guidelines issued in 2000. But by 2008, the AAP had backed off from this recommendation. Then last year, it reversed course. A large study had found that regular exposure to peanuts from 4 months of age reduces the risk of allergy by about 80 per cent.

    McLeod, who lives in Texas, had both of her babies in the years between the changing advice. She learned the hard way that her youngest has a life-threatening allergy. “We had to rush her to the emergency room. It was extremely scary,” she says.

    It would be comforting to think the drastic change in advice with peanut allergy is unique. But this type of medical about-face isn’t rare. A recent analysis of research published in one medical journal over 10 years identified a whopping 146 such reversals. To be clear, this is not just the process of upgrading advice as better evidence comes in. These are practices that became routine before we learned they didn’t actually work. And worse, before we knew if they could cause harm.
    }
    Hence, if uncleanness has no scientific basis today, it might have one tomorrow.

Comments are closed.

Most Popular