Reborn as dogs: The curse of menstruation

The rhetoric of menstrual stigma often results in physical violence. And that is why it should not be ignored

Reborn as dogs: The curse of menstruation

Nikita Arora

While the nation was struggling for breath amidst the stifling air of jingoism and bigotry, a girls’ institute in Bhuj, Gujarat, found it extremely important to check if its students were menstruating. Forcing 68 women students to strip to prove their ‘purity,’ the Shri Sahjanand Girls’ Institute, run by the Swaminarayan Mandir struck at the heart of menstrual stigma in the nation. As if this wasn’t disparaging enough, Swami Krushnaswarup Dasji — a religious leader associated with the Swaminarayan Mandir — remarked a couple of days later that men who consume food prepared by menstruating women will be reborn as bullocks and women who prepare food while menstruating will be reborn as dogs in their next lives. 

To someone living in 2020, binge-watching Sex Education on Netflix and reading Modern Love columns in the New York Times, Dasji and his colleagues are hilarious and almost pitiable. Nobody takes them seriously, we think to ourselves. They are laughing stock for the media and people alike, we hear our friends say. However, little do we realise that amidst all the laughter, men like Dasji get away with their discriminatory rants. They are able to disseminate their prejudices through institutions that support them, including schools and religious gatherings. For instance, almost a year ago, at a college in Bathinda, Punjab, women boarders were forced to strip in front of their hostel warden to find out who was menstruating and who was not. These structures ensure that the words of men like Dasji are translated into abuses of power.

That’s why I find it pertinent to consider what happens when these statements reach their audiences? Sometimes the violence of such remarks is not registered consciously by their recipients — women-identifying and/or non-identifying menstruators; it is perhaps lived on the body as a blemishor hidden in euphemisms. It is managed ‘properly’ with the aid of fragrant sanitary products, opaque plastic bags, and no-cooking days, but perhaps not experienced as limiting one’s mobility and motility directly. But, sometimes, the violence of exclusion is inscribed on the self, leading to alienation, depression, and in the case of a 12-year old schoolgirl in Tamil Nadu, taking your own life.

This young schoolgirl had asked in her suicide note, why did my teacher complain about me like this. Her teacher had allegedly scolded her in front of her peers for not learning how to use a sanitary napkin properly and for having stained her dress. Dasji reprimanded menstruating women for sentencing themselves and their husbands to lives of misery and hell by cooking while menstruating. Irrespective of how efficiently women might manage (read: hide) the fact that they menstruate, the fear of and the repulsion towards the abject menstrual blood keeps on parroting its key message to women: your body is the problem. No quantity of fragrance or quality of sanitary napkin will ever be enough to cover up for the lack and the loss that is your body.

Menstrual pollution and taboo establish and reinforce the thesis that women’s menstruating bodies should be lived as a blight on the human species whose sole purpose (if there is one) is reproduction. In fact, many young girls have asked this question time and again: why complain about me, by which they often mean, why complain about my body. If the body is our medium of knowing and navigating the world, what does it mean to experience your body as a curse? For young minds and bodies, menstrual stigma can induce feelings of self-hate, underestimation of one’s abilities, and inadequacy. That’s why I feel it’s paramount that we challenge menstrual stigma head-on even when it seems to come from as ludicrous corners of society as represented by the likes of the Swaminarayan Mandir.

Tribune Shorts


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