Touching the Pickle Jar: Demystifying Period Myths in India
Myths are commonly held socio-cultural beliefs of a society. Although myths are
stories that are passed down through generations, they help to perpetuate gender
stereotypes and superstition in India which is extremely problematic.
In Hindu mythology, menstruation reportedly originated as a ‘curse’. The ancient relics state that Lord Indra fought with a sage named Vritra and committed the crime of ‘Brahma-hatya’ i.e., killing of brahmin. After praying to Lord Vishnu, Indra was told to divide his sin between the Earth, the trees, water and women.
As a result, women received the blessing of creating life but also the so-called 'curse' or 'burden' of menstruation.
According to a 2016 study by the Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS) which looked at data about 97,070 girls, 8 out of 10 girls are not allowed to enter religious places, 6 out of 10 are not allowed to enter the kitchen or touch food and 3 out of 10 are forced to sleep separately. Therefore, for many girls and women of underprivileged backgrounds, period myths are very much a lived reality.
- “Menstrual blood is dirty”
- She should not enter places of worship
Recently, the Muslim Law Board stated that Islam allows women to pray in mosques if they do wish to. However, in reality, many mosques rarely make the arrangements for this. In the Sabarimala verdict, the Supreme Court of India declared the ban on women (of menstruating age) to enter the temple is unconstitutional and illegal. While this is a step in the right direction, much more needs to be done in enforcing the verdict.
- She should not enter the kitchen or cook food for others
- She should not take bath for the first few days of their period
- She should not touch plants or cows
- She should sleep in a separate room or hut
- She should not eat curd, pickle, tamarind , etc.
- She should not exercise or engage in sexual activity
- Menstrual cloth should be cleaned or buried to prevent evil spirits from using them
The impact of period myths on women are:
- Many girls are forced to drop out of school by their families. As stated by a 2014 report “Spot On!” by Dasra, 23 million Indian girls drop out of school annually.
- It restricts access to knowledge about puberty, menstruation, reproductive health, etc., especially amongst those who live in poverty or illiteracy.
- The absence of proper sanitation and hygiene facilities at home/school/place of work.
- The various health risks that might arise due to the use of unsafe materials like cloth, plastic bag, husk, or newspaper during periods (leading to reproductive or urinary tract infections and cancer).
- Being excluded from socio-cultural aspects of life and feeling lonely.
- Mental health issues, guilt and shame during menstruation.