30/08/2017 4:13 PM IST | Updated 30/08/2017 4:41 PM IST

Shamed By Teacher For Period Stain, 12-Year-Old Girl Allegedly Kills Herself In Tamil Nadu

A regressive legacy.

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Image used for representational purpose only.

A 12-year-old girl in Tamil Nadu allegedly committed suicide after being reportedly shamed by her teacher for staining her clothes with menstrual blood in front of her class, reported NDTV.

The student, a class VII student, jumped off a 25-feet-high building in her hometown near Chennai, leaving behind a note that claimed she had been tortured by her teacher.

The teacher, a woman, is facing abetment of suicide charges, according to the NDTV report.

Shocking as it may be, this is not an isolated tragedy in this country. India has a long and murky tradition of menstrual-shaming and superstitions about periods. Often, the shaming starts at an early age, conditioning both men and women to think of period blood as dirty and the topic of menstruation as a taboo.

In March this year, a senior Congress leader, MM Hassan from Kerala, made a public statement saying menstruation turns women's bodies "impure"

Last year, a warden of a school in UP was allegedly so angered at seeing a few drops of blood on the floor of the girls' bathroom that she ordered a strip search of 70 girls and threatened to beat them if they didn't comply. The girls' families protested, leading to the warden's suspension.

Unfortunately, such primitive thinking about natural bodily processes afflicts many among us, even those in positions of power and influence. In March this year, a senior Congress leader, MM Hassan, from Kerala, made a public statement saying menstruation turns women's bodies "impure", and that they should not enter churches, temples and mosques during their period. On receiving severe flak for his regressive comment, he later back-pedalled, saying it wasn't his personal opinion but the prevailing societal belief.

Regardless of the source of his views, Hassan was not wrong in claiming that this is how large chunks of our population continue to think.

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Isolation of women during their period is a common practice, not just in tribal or rural areas but also within households with educated families in the metros. On the one hand we are horrified on hearing that in many states, menstruating women are sent to live in huts unfit for human habitation away from their villages without proper food, water, basic sanitation facilities and even a bed. On the other, most of us quietly accept it when women in our own families are not allowed to enter the kitchen or made to sleep in a separate designated bed during their periods.

According to a 2016 study, based on data from nearly 1 lakh Indian girls, by the Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS) 80% Indian girls are not allowed to enter religious shrines when they are on their period; 60% are not allowed to touch food in the kitchen, and 30% are asked to sleep in a separate room.

With such a pervasive culture of shame, it is not surprising that young girls grow up thinking poorly about their bodies. Even today, sanitary napkins are wrapped in newspapers and dark plastic bags while being sold, as if they're not a basic hygiene product but volatile nuclear waste that needs to be handled with the utmost care and secrecy.

The TISS study found that 50 percent of the adolescent girls part of the study had no idea about menstruation when they first got their period.

It is abundantly clear that even today, periods are a contentious issue in our society, affecting the quality of the lives of millions of girls and women, holding them back them from realising their full potential. According to a 2010 study by AC Nielsen, 23% girls in India drop out of school after they start menstruating.

It is profoundly disturbing, albeit unsurprising, that the TISS study also found that 50% of adolescent girls had no idea about menstruation when they first got their period.

With regressive messages bombarding their minds from an early age and their bodies being treated like an ideological battleground, it is unsurprising that adolescent girls find the topic of periods uncomfortable and embarrassing. It's hard to go to school or to work, or simply function normally, when, for as long as you can remember, you've been taught to pretend like your body isn't bleeding.

When educators, who have the power to wield as much influence on their students as their families, add to the burden of insecurity and shame, is it really so surprising that a 12-year-old might feel miserable enough to take her own life?

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