Menstruation is the only blood that is not born from violence, yet it’s the one that disgusts you the most.
The Kamakhya temple in Assam witnesses thousands of people each year celebrating Ambubachi Mela, a celebration of the yearly menstruation cycle of Devi Kamakhya. And yet in the same state, in 2017, a young G. Talukdar lost her life to unhygienic menstrual practice. The 18-year-old from Silcoorie died from a parasitic infection in her intestines owing to the use of an unclean cloth she had used as a replacement for a sanitary napkin, a common practice in India.
Every year, 28 May is marked as World Menstrual Hygiene Day. The fifth month represents the five days of menses, while 28 denotes the average number of days a menstrual cycle lasts. This day is observed to create awareness around the tabooed topic of periods and start an inclusive and healthy conversation around the same.
On 26 May, Delhi witnessed an interesting conversation on menstruation, its politics and poetry, through a travelling art exhibition by Boondh. Titled The Crimson Wave, the show featured artworks by artists such as Sangeetha Alwar, Ananda Menon, Devika, Vidhi Bassi, Priyanka Paul and others, who have made art using period blood, in an attempt to debunk the myth of period blood being impure.
“I created the artwork we do not bleed blue to promote healthy menstruation practices. It is a GIF targeted at TV advertisements. This was to acknowledge the shame that the media seems to purport against the blood that is natural,” says Sangeetha Alwar. While printouts of the aforementioned artwork—among others—adorned the walls of the event space, the powerful poetry performances spoke about lesser-known issues like vaginismus, endometriosis and PCOS, which often go undiagnosed in young women due to the shame and stigma around their sexual organs. One such performer was Radhika Sharma, a slam poet who spoke about the male-gaze and the shame women go through while menstruating. She said, “I just want to reach out to young girls through my poems and let them know that they are not alone in their journey of self-discovery. They don’ have to feel constrained or ashamed of a natural process.”
Apart from discussing health and issues related to menstrual hygiene, the oppressive practice of Chhaupadi in Nepal was discussed, where women are ostracised and kept in separate (often dingy and unclean) huts when they menstruate. While many poets touched on this practice, Kavita Malviya explored, in her poem “Chuppi Nahi, Ab Charcha Hai”, the divine power of giving birth.
Sonal Jain from Boondh curated this event and shared her anecdotes from a Boondh project in Jharkhand. She believes in the “cradle to cradle” approach that aims at creating zero waste while engaging in responsible production and use of sanitary products.
As per the National Family Health Survey 2015-16, 42% of women in India lack access to hygienic means to manage their menstrual cycles, and in 2014, a report from NGO Dasra, titled Spot On, claimed that around 23 million girls drop out of school annually due to lack of proper menstrual hygiene management facilities, which include availability of sanitary napkins and general awareness of menstruation. Boondh works at the intersection of menstrual health and environment sustainability by manufacturing the menstrual cup, a silicone cup that is a better and sustainable alternative to the commonly used sanitary pads.