Presidency student in menstrual blood
Visuals of a Presidency University student on campus,with menstrual blood trickling down her thigh and staining her jeans,recently opened a floodgate of debate and controversy. It also brought to the fore the rising demand for official 'leave' for women during their periods. However, some interpreted the visuals displayed in public as 'show.' Nothing more than an urban display of ultra-feminism, a mere spectacle of some 'ism' that's often taunted as 'online sisterhood.'
But in reality,there is an iota of truth in the branding: Urban feminists are working relentlessly to erase the stigma attached to menstruation and other taboos through demonstrations and social and online networking. All said and done, fruits of feminism hardly ever trickle down to millions of women, whodo not have access toeven a sanitary napkin during their periodsand for them 'leave' during menstruation is something unheard of. 'They are compelled to use old, tattered pieces of cloth to soak the blood and stay behind closed indoors, away from prying eyes, sleeping on the floor on plantain leaves to avoid staining.'
Surprisingly, a majority of urban women have not been able to shed their inhibitions about menstruation. They not only find the demand for leave during menstruation ludicrous, but have been greatly disturbed by the photograph of the student moving freely in the campus without concealing her blood, trickling down her thighs. These women staunchly believe girls are to be blamed when they become victims of sexual abuse and rape because they 'titillate' men with short, revealing dresses, go to pubs and go for live-in relationships. They mention Suzette Jordan and Delhi resident Pallabi's case as instances to substantiate their views.
In reality, very few of us believe self-inflicting pain and non-violence can be used as a weapon of protest.We have witnessed leaders like Mahatma Gandhi and MedhaPatekar using it to press for social justice. The girl at Presidency came out in full public view in her stained pair of jeans. She broke all social taboo and came out in the open to protest and her grievance has already paved the way for discussion. Although many targeted the girl and shamed her for her 'bold and brazen' action, none the less, she deserves kudos for demonstrating tremendous psychological power against an age-old prejudice.
According to a study on human development index undertaken in 2012, 79.4 per cent of women still have to seek the family patriarch's permission to visit a local health centre. It is thus natural for them not to be aware of such protest movements, or about the urban feminists' work to eradicate the taboo regarding menstruation. They have far more pressing issues to worry about like child marriage, male oligarchy, dowry-related issues, domestic violence and even decent toilets.They are well aware of their physical condition during menstruation and yet they also know that to go on 'leave' during that period would be more of breaking or disobeying the patriarchal rule. In fact, any blood stain on the saree or frock that is visible publicly is regarded as a sign of humiliation for the family's men folk and the 'perpetrator' knows well how she will be subjected to shame and ridicule.
But then the question arises: Are all movements meaningless and mere waves in the vast ocean of gender equality wars? Mere ripples that just appear and disappear without an effect whatsoever. Is it correct to keep mum and accept every little right meted out to women as a dole, given by society and men at large? Acceptance of biases and prejudices only sharpen the claws of the evils. Let online voices of women,protesting against biases grow stronger, so that none can be forced to retract and abandon her struggle midway like Gurmeher Kaur. Let there be strong clauses to punish cyber law offenders. Let modern technical innovations be used as weapons to fight against injustice. The government's self-help projects can mobilise women's groups to make sanitary napkins as part of Kanyashree scheme. It is the government's duty to ensure women living below poverty level not fall prey to infections.
Organisation like Gunj and individuals like Arunachalam Murugan should be sponsored by the government to continue with their projects. If a student's protest can sensitise school and college authorities to consider seriously the urgent requirement to installsanitary pad vending machines in their institution, then bigger protests can lead to implementation of rights.
Since 19thcentury, major social reforms have taken place, such as banning Sati and paving for widow remarriage. They were initiated by reformers from Bengal, like Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar or Raja Ram Mohan Roy. Their movements were not initiated for cosmetic change in society. In a deep-rooted patriarchal society, one cannot expect a sudden change. But feminist leaders working for their rights and emancipation will also have to be very focused about their goal and keep all instincts alert to see that the movement does not lose its impetus amid narrow vested interests.
Let us not forget there was a time when female suffrage was strongly criticised and opposed globally but a long and relentless movement by committed feminists carried the demand forward and now we see all women have equal voting rights.