‘Today we drink only Bloody Mary.’ Period in India

Kadr z piosenki „Period song” twórczyń kanału „Girliyapa”. Zespół śpiewa „Babcia opuściła klub [okresowy], ale mama ciągle w nim jest”

The period is a taboo topic in societies around the world. Even in fairly liberal European countries, we’ve only just started to talk about menstruation out loud. How was a song about a period created in a country where up to 23% of girls drop out of school when they get their first period?

For example, you can create a ‘Period Song‘ that normalises the period and shows that a girl is not alone in her experiences.

Period song 

In a track recorded by creators of the youtube channel ‘Girliyapa’, women dressed in red suits welcome a girl to the Period club, where the party is going on; you can eat ice cream in any quantity or find a PFF (Period Friend Forever), that is, a friend with whom we have a synchronised period. As you enter, you get a special manual: Dummies Guide to Periods and a set of menstrual products. Girls sing, ‘Today we drink no wine, nor lager – only Bloody Mary’. If only period looks equally rosy as the video clip.

A special moment in the song deals with the female desire for intercourse. During a period! It’s hard to imagine a more taboo mix of subjects. In the video clip, a hesitant partner is being persuaded to be intimate with them in various ways; in one scene, women unwrap him from a sheet draped around his hips like an Indian sari. The man spins around his axis, but the sheet doesn’t fall off.

It’s a common scene in Bollywood movies, but most importantly, it’s a reference to one of the most important scenes in the epic Mahabharata. One of the main characters, Draupadi, is publicly molested by Dushasana, who is trying to take down her sari. However, the material stretches endlessly due to Krishna’s divine intervention, and Draupadi isn’t undressed even for a brief moment. Although the scene with the sheet lasts only for a few seconds, it is known among the Indians. Additionally, the fact that the gender roles are reversed adds extra spice to it.

Breaking the taboo

Traditional ritual rules were also treated with a grain of salt: girls of Girliyapa sing that when you are on your period: ‘they won’t let you enter the kitchen or the temple’, while in the video clip appears, a woman with an explosive device under her clothes. Indeed, sometimes it seems that the topic of menstruation is as fragile as a bomb.

‘In India, the strong taboo about menstruation is widespread, which results in a huge sense of shame, especially among young girls’ – says Manisha, an Indian woman who has been living in Warsaw for two years. ‘Even if a family can afford pads or other sanitary products, it’s really hard to work up the courage and ask for them in a shop’. ‘Why?’ – I ask. ‘Most shops in India aren’t self-service, and most shop assistants are men. When you’re only 12, it’s not easy to ask an older man to take a pack of pads off the shelf.’

‘I remember when I got my first period and thought I would die. Luckily, my mother calmed me down and gave me a homemade pad. It was a cotton wrapped in clean cloth – probably the most popular method at the time of preventing blood stains’ – Manisha recalls.

Pieces of material, leaves and soil

Even though a lot happened in the ’90s, the practice of putting shredded T-shirts, socks or even leaves and soil into panties hasn’t completely disappeared, and it doesn’t happen only in India. 

‘Menstrual poverty occurs when a menstruating person doesn’t have enough money to take care of themselves during their period”, – says Karolina Kosecka from the Period Coalition (Okresowa Koalicja), which consociates organisations, activists, and experts engaged in normalising the topic of menstruation. Karolina entered the coalition on behalf of the polish magazine Szajn.

‘This is primarily about the purchase of tampons or pads. In Poland, we also sometimes talk about menstrual exclusion, i. e. a situation where lack of money is not a problem, but access to menstrual products in schools and hospitals is. What should a teenager do when they get their period and a nurse is not present on that day at their secondary school? After all, they can’t go shopping during the class period’ – explains Karolina.

Stigma is everywhere

Exclusions, as Karolina says, love to go in pairs. The menstrual exclusion sometimes overlaps with transport exclusion. ‘It’s a situation when not only a menstruating person can’t afford pads, but also cannot get to the nearest store where they could buy them. Because the bus that used to go to the nearest town was cancelled.’

In India, where most people live in rural areas, the phenomenon of double exclusion is, unfortunately, not uncommon.

‘Soon after I got my first period, holidays started’ – Manisha from India continues her story. ‘I didn’t go to school, and my period didn’t bother me too much and homemade ways of preventing leakage worked. It started to be very difficult only after the beginning of the school year. I would sit in the class, and all I could think about was a stain on my butt.’

I realised that I didn’t know one significant thing about Manisha. ‘Were you born in the countryside or the city?’ – I asked. ‘After what I said, it might surprise you’- she warned me. ‘But I’m from Delhi, the capital.’

It didn’t surprise me because I know stories of people my mother’s age, that even in the ’80s, wrapping cotton strips in lignin and putting them in panties was widespread. In Warsaw. And when, in 1991, Anna Patrycy reached for sanitary pads ‘with a dose of timidity’ (sic!) in the first emitted commercial for menstrual products on Polish television, half of the country was left outraged.

Crack on the surface

‘As the Period Coalition, we fight menstrual poverty. We distribute sanitary products to orphanages, women’s shelters, and educational institutions and organise informational campaigns. Apart from that, we’re preparing a draft of a law thanks to which, in each school, free menstrual products would be available. Because the lack of a pad in a backpack during period takes confidence and dignity away.’ – Karolina says. ‘But in order to tame the topic of menstruation, we need to take action on many levels, including artistic ones. Indian »Period Song« may be a good example. It’s like a crack on the surface. After one scratch, there will come another, and finally, the glass ceiling will collapse.’

‘India is going through a lot of changes, too’ – Manisha convinces. ‘Have you seen an Indian film »Period. End of the sentence«?. It won an Oscar a few years ago. It’s a documentary about menstruation in India and an exceptional invention which fights menstrual poverty: the machine that makes sanitary pads. Women learn how to use it, they sell their own sanitary products, and by doing so, they carry out a quiet revolution: they show that period is a normal thing. There should be more films like this one in India and worldwide.’

Maybe then the life of menstruating people (and therefore, nonbinary people or trans men) will resemble more the party from the ‘Period Song’.

Translated by Natalia Grzela.

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