– By Saloni Saraf
Over the next few months, Hindus globally will be celebrating what is one of the most festive and religiously heightened phases of the year. A time for celebration, spirituality, and family. Feast on the best foods, visit the most stunning temples, and pray for the good health of your loved ones.
Except if you’re on your period.
A couple weeks ago, the rest of my family sat comfortably with their hands clasped silent in worship while I hovered outside the temple, fiddling with the edge of the carpet and rhythmically cracking my fingers. I wasn’t allowed to go in. As I sat there watching the backs of my parents in resentment, I went through all the points of why I disagreed with this fabricated religious border. My period had nothing to do with my desire to worship, my body wasn’t unclean. My father patted my brothers back as he slouched in his pyjamas. I felt discriminated by my own family, tradition, and religion. As my irritation increased and my frustration finally boiled high enough, I kicked my shoes off, and strode into the temple.
We teach our daughters to be proud of their bodies, we challenge inequality, and we stigmatise discrimination. Yet we ignore what can only be described as misogynistic beliefs that stem deep into our tradition, and train our women to believe that menstruation is impure, and unclean. Don’t enter the temple as it will not be right. Don’t touch the kitchen utensils as you will stain. Growing up surrounded by a traditional hindu family, whilst immersed in a liberal, feminist society can confuse anyone who’s genuinely interested in following a religion that runs through her family.
This whole attitude has sadly fallen in the bracket of extremist rules that should not exist within a religion. Yet for some reason, Hindus everywhere, no matter how old follow it blindly as if they themselves agree that they are unclean. After multiple debates with my family, and unsatisfactory conclusions to why my mother will not change her mind about it. I looked up why this even began.
Historically this stage of the month was treated almost like a holiday. 5 days where the pain that some women went through was taken into account, and they were allowed to take a break. They didn’t have to carry heavy items, spend their entire day cooking, or walk miles to the nearest temple. But when did it descend into a rule? When did something that was meant as a kind favour to a generation of submissive women become part of the law and order of religion?
The worst part about this tradition is that no one genuinely understands it. No woman believes that they are ‘dirty’ when they are menstruating. This culture is so deeply ingrained in our lives, feeling uncomfortable fighting against it is inevitable. A 10 year old will cringe at the idea of his or her sister being on her period, and that stems purely from the fact that they haven’t been taught about why it happens. Is the lack of sexual education in our communities so large that even fully grown adults can treat a woman on her period like she is unfit to exist in a place of worship?
It’s frustrating that something which affects half the population of my own house, in only a negative way has taken me 20 years of silent confusion and reluctant compliance to finally speak out against. We’re developing our mindsets, our lifestyles and our behaviour towards the world. Let’s develop our religions too. This is something I feel incredibly strongly about, and I sincerely hope that everyone, not just those in my own family and community, will resonate with my sensibility regarding this topic.