Silence Around Menstruation And Related Taboos Still Haunt Most Women In Rural Assam

Juthika Baruah | Jan 19, 2020 | 4 min read


“We don’t know about hygiene, we were only taught about the myths of menstruation since childhood,” said Minu Das (57), currently living in one of Assam’s many flood relief camps. “We were told by our elders that it is not good to communicate with others during menstruation. We were not even allowed to go to school.”

She said the girls during menstruation are not even allowed to bathe, or else they might become infertile. “What we have learnt we have taught to our daughters. We are not educated enough and believe what our elders told us.”

Some other myths these women believe to be true are: If they touch a cow when they are menstruating, it will become infertile; They can't look into a mirror when menstruating or else they will lose their sight; They can't touch a plant when menstruating or else it will die. 

Girls are not allowed to go to their school or college during their periods. It’s such a hush-hush topic they cannot even mention their periods to anyone. They believe menstruating women are impure and therefore they cannot enter kitchen. They live in a separate room outside the house during periods and can’t go to a temple or attend any religious function.

Such beliefs and myths are rife among women in rural Assam, especially in remote villages. Though menstrual hygiene is an integral part of the Swachh Bharat Mission Guidelines and Menstrual Hygiene Management (MHM) framework, rural women in Assam have little access to information and safe menstrual hygiene practices. Few have even heard of sanitary napkins and if they have, cannot afford it. Rampant use of cloth has created a health issue among these women.

The situation is particularly bad in the flood relief camps, which are set up every year in the flood-prone state. “In these camps, girls who are menstruating don’t even step out of their rooms and have to stay by a corner and not talk to others,” informed Archana Borthakur, founder of Priyobondhu, an NGO dealing with social issues.

She mentioned the case of a girl who did not come forth to collect relief material and sent her friend instead. It turned out that this girl was menstruating and felt ashamed because of the blood stains on her clothes. She had been living in that condition for days as she did not have a sanitary napkin or even a piece of cloth.

There are the occasional voices questioning the taboos, Borthakur highlighted. She mentioned some of the questions the girls have asked her: “Why are we not allowed inside the kitchen during our menstruation period?” “Why are taboos imposed on us in the name of religious traditions?” “Why are we scared to mention it to anyone?”

Talking to 101Reporters, 19-year-old Nafisa (name changed) said most girls in their villages have to live with such taboos. “It becomes very tough for us during those days as we cannot go anywhere and cannot communicate with anyone. We don’t know why we can’t even touch anything. We are now living in relief camps as our house has been destroyed in floods and its very shameful for us when everyone comes to know when we are menstruating as we are compelled to sit in a corner,” said Nafisa. 

Another girl, Debanti, 23, said they have to use pieces of cloth and as they are living in relief camps, they don’t have enough cloth to use and they can't afford to buy sanitary napkins.

Borthakur revealed that womenfolk from this strata of society are unaware of the life-threatening consequences of unhygienic menstrual practices. She said they don’t know poor menstrual hygiene can cause fungal infections, reproductive tract infection and urinary tract infection, which can lead to cervical cancer. She said most women go through their periods very secretively and are never mindful about the need for hygiene. 

More stories published under