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The Dark Side of Menstruation and Women Suppression in Manipur

Menstruation stigma continues to be a form of misogyny in Manipur.

Kingson Chingakham

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When we talk about women of Manipur, what are the things that come first in your mind? Perhaps, that will be ‘Ima Keithel (mother’s market)’- the biggest market run by women in Asia or ‘Meira Paibis (women torch bearers) which was recently awarded as the “largest grassroots civilian movement fighting state atrocities and human rights violations in Manipur”. Or are you thinking about Mary Kom, the world champion boxer or any other sportswomen? These are the women who have painted a good picture of women in Manipur covering up the darker side women face daily in the state.

Let us talk about ‘Menstruation’

In Manipur, nobody talks about menstruation. It is still considered as a private affair which women only have to tackle individually. The problem starts with a particular terminology itself. In Manipur, menstruation is referred to as mangba which translates into something like dirty/unclean which needs to be secluded.

If a community starts treating a natural process like menstruation as something unclean or dirty, that’s the beginning of a big problem of women suppression!

Menstruation stigma continues to be a form of misogyny in Manipur. The negative taboos surrounding menstruation makes the women over there hide the functions of menstruation and becomes a reason for embarrassment.

Every culture, whether it be Christians, Hindus or Muslims have their own form of taboos. But these are all associated with pre-modern brains. But now menstrual taboos are at the centre of the origins of patriarchy.

With a number of women and men becoming more educated, the process of sensitizing men and women about menstruation was expected to carry out faster, smoothly and productively for a better societal change. However, we still can notice the continuity of this practises irrespective of the level of education.

In Manipur, women don’t talk much about menstruation among themselves. They usually consider a process on a monthly cycle and take it casually. If they can’t indulge in a serious discussion or logical dialogue to curb the taboos, let us forget men talking about it because it is considered “a topic man should avoid”.

If Meira Paibis is recognised for their cause in social movement, why haven’t they done anything yet? Largely because they themselves need to get sensitize about this first. The Meira Paibis composition falls mostly between the age bracket of 40 years and above. These are the women who still perceive menstruation as shameful and ill. If they have to become a voice of change for the collective interest of women in Manipur, they themselves have to be educated with various aspects of menstruation which I don’t see it happening anytime soon.

The state government is hardly doing anything. Manipur has plenty of known faces of sportswomen who have been honoured with Padma and Arjuna Awards. The state government can formulate a campaign on women health and menstruation and make these sportswomen the star campaigner for a wider reach. Again, this seems not happening either very soon!

Avoid Kitchen and Temples

I have a friend from Manipur. She completed her Bachelor’s and postgraduation from one of the reputed colleges of the University of Delhi. She told me that when she was living with her cousins (boys and girls both) in Delhi, she was the only person who knew how to cook. So, even if she was in her periods, she cooked and everyone ate. However, whenever she goes back home, her mother will stop her from going to the kitchen. And please note, her mother is a Professor in one of the affiliated colleges of Manipur University.

Manipur is mainly a composition of three religions – Hindus, Christians and Sanamahism (an animistic, ancestor worshipping, shaman-led religious tradition found among the Meitei people in the state). Irrespective of religion, you can see that women avoid going to holy places of worship during periods and the reason behind being they consider themselves ‘unclean’ and not appropriate to seek blessings from God during the menstruation cycle. Isn’t it pathetic? Do you think that God will discriminate us on this ground? Also, this is also a violation of fundamental rights enshrined in our constitution.

Myth : Don’t bath during menstruation

In Manipur, if a woman is menstruating, she should not take a bath. There is a myth around this – “hot water stimulates bleeding, or the water stops you from bleeding, which can have ill effects”. But there is no reason not to have a bath during periods.

As written by medical experts that “it is better and healthier to use water and mild, fragrance-free soap to clean the vulva”. This is because many intimate care products can disrupt the delicate bacterial balance in the genital area, making it easier for infections to take hold. So, who will talk about this to the women of Manipur? Are there any NGOs or women bodies working in this area? No. This is where the civil society organization and other women bodies need to come out more active as the government is sitting with hands tied.

Myth : If you are married, don’t share a bed with your Husband during periods

For all those married women, during periods, due to some old norms, they don’t sleep with their husbands in the same bed. They have to sleep separately. This was clearly shown in the Akshay Kumar – Radhika Apte’s movie “Padman” on which Radhika Apte’s character could be seen sleeping alone outside in the balcony during periods and her husband sleeping in the bed.

Most of the women say that they don’t feel comfortable sharing bed with their husbands during periods. And some men do not feel comfortable in sharing bed with their wives during periods. So, there you go! Sleeping in separate beds!

Myth : Certain Foods/Fruits to be avoided during periods

There are certain food items that are advised by Doctors to avoid during periods. And you should stick to it! However, there are some scientifically unproven practices that are still followed in Manipur.

For example, fruits!

Many women experience uncomfortable symptoms like cramps, headaches, nausea, fatigue, bloating, mood swings, or diarrhoea during periods. There is a wide range of fruits that can help women improve their condition during periods. Bananas, Oranges, Watermelons, Lemons, Pineapples, figs & plums, kiwi, dragon fruit, passion fruit, papaya, mango etc are some of the examples. But largely in Manipur, women do not take fruits during periods due to fear that fruits might make periods heavy and prolonged.

In Manipur, during periods, women are asked not to consume ‘coriander leaves’, pumpkins, Petai–a big (locally called yongchak) – long green bean with light green seeds, curd/yoghurt etc. Due to lack of rationality and medical awareness, people blindly follow the age-old superstitious beliefs which might aggravate pain.

How to change?

As mentioned above, the government needs to take up some serious actions regarding women health and menstruation. There is a need to sensitize both men, women, and especially teenage so that they do not feel awkward when this happens. Well know faces, films actors, sportswomen should send important messages to the public regarding this.

There are around 1000 NGOs/civil society organizations working in Manipur. At least few of these bodies need to take up this cause. The local media, also, need to play an important role. We can hardly see any debates or discussion on this particular topic on local news channels. No important opinion or editorials are published in the vernacular newspapers.

Schools, colleges and universities should include menstruation in the syllabi to sensitize the young minds. As I remember, when I was at school in Manipur, we were not taught anything about menstruation. Not only because it was boys’ only school but because the curriculum designed by the Manipur Board of Higher Education did not include anything about it. A careful redesigning of the syllabi is an urgent need.

Personal Blog. For details please mail me at observersindia@gmail.com

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