Menstruation has always been surrounded by myths whereas it is the natural part of the reproductive cycle and is one of the indicators of the onset of puberty. The topic has been a socio-cultural taboo in many societies, particularly Asian. Its impact is huge on women’s health and emotional state and has potentially harmful implications.
Recently a 21 years old Nepalese woman has died of suspected suffocation from smoke inhalation while banished to an abandoned windowless hut during her periods. She was kept there in keeping with a centuries-old taboo that declares menstruating women impure. The media reports say that as the temperature dropped below freezing and she was sleeping alone she tried to keep warm by apparently burning wood. By the next morning, her legs were charred and she was dead. This is not the first case in Nepal. A week before a 35-year-old woman and two of her sons died of suffocation after they spent a night in a windowless hut as part of the banned practice which in 2005, Nepal’s Supreme Court had banned followed by a new law in 2017 to criminalise it.
This taboo has its roots in Hinduism which during women’s periods bars them from touching neighbours’ food or entering temples. It is considered bad luck to touch them. So the women are banished to mud or stone huts. Surprisingly, reports of sexual assault from men who prey on them while they are alone are also common.
The origin of this myth dates back to the Vedic times and is often been linked to Indra’s slaying of Vritras. For, it has been declared in the Veda that guilt, of killing a brahmana-murder, appears every month as menstrual flow as women had taken upon themselves a part of Indra’s guilt. Further, in the Hindu faith, women are prohibited from participating in normal life while menstruating. She must be purified before she is allowed to return to her family and day to day chores of her life.
Many of the practices during menstruation have direct implications on reproductive health. Empowerment of women through education will certainly play an important role in overcoming this cultural taboo. Menstruation is a normal biological phenomenon, and women should understand that they have the power of procreation only because of this virtue. There is the need to follow a strategic approach.