Touching the Pickle Jar: Demystifying Period Myths in India

Touching the Pickle Jar: Demystifying Period Myths in India

Myths are commonly held socio-cultural beliefs of a society. Although myths are just 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.

Here are some period myths in India:

  1. “Menstrual blood is dirty”

Menstruation is a normal biological process where after there is no fertilisation of the egg by sperm, the uterine lining sheds and discharges through the vagina. Menstrual blood — and by extension, menstruation — is not dirty.

  1. She should not enter places of worship

Women have been barred from entering places of worship since many centuries but this is slowly dissipating. While the Sikh and Buddhist religions do not see menstruation as impure or unhygienic, Islam and Hinduism discourage entry of women into mosques and temples respectively.

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.

  1. She should not enter the kitchen or cook food for others
  1. She should not take bath for the first few days of their period
  1. She should not touch plants or cows

These myths which perpetuate the notion that menstruating girls and women would somehow contaminate or spoil food, pollute water, cause plants to die or cows to become infertile goes against every scientific and rational sensibility.

  1. She should sleep in a separate room or hut

Unfortunately, it is a common practice to separate the menstruating girl or woman from her family in many parts of rural India. There is a potential harm to their safety and health/life due to natural calamities, animal attacks and rape.

  1. She should not eat curd, pickle, tamarind , etc.
  1. She should not exercise or engage in sexual activity

It is believed that eating certain foods or exercise will restrict the menstrual flow and cause infertility — which is also scientifically unfounded. In fact, physical activity can produce serotonin and provide relief from cramps in some.

  1. Menstrual cloth should be cleaned or buried to prevent evil spirits from using them

This myth simply perpetuates age-old taboos and superstition which is completely false!

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.

It is crucial to eliminate these deep-rooted myths about periods from Indian society. We need to break the chain of these outdated behaviours and practices by raising awareness against it. Life should not end when periods start for girls.