In rural Bundelkhand, the use (and re-use) of cloth still remains prevalent during menstruation
"I use it once, then wash it. Then I burn it." Anita is claiming her version of what she believes is the correct menstrual hygiene method. She is not entirely incorrect. In a world that has capitalised this most basic bodily function, Anita lives in a country where the system has failed her. Living in Ragauli village, in Chitrakoot district in India's most populous state of Uttar Pradesh, the preferred material for Anita during her periods, besides cloth, is ash, sand, grass and even paper.
Like her peers, Anita has been ignored, as have her needs. The UP government, like its big brother at the centre, continues to launch policy after policy and continues to fare miserably on implementation. Let's take the distribution of sanitary pads, for instance. The Kishori Shakti Yojna was launched in the state to empower adolescent girls and young women. Free sanitary pads for women was one of its central tenets –- but ground reality is different. Anita is part of the 88% of women in our country who do not use sanitary pads during their period. One of the major reasons is that most women cannot afford to buy sanitary pads.
"After I've washed it, I stuff it inside the almirah. Once it's dried, the same cloth waits out its 28-30 days, until it's fished out again, from the back of the almirah."
A sheer lack of awareness around menstrual hygiene is another big reason. Rita, of Tarun block, Kalyanpur Chhitauna village and Anshu of Mitanpur village -- both in Faizabad district -- share with us a list of physical discomforts they experience during their period, but neither is aware of what causes the discomfort. "We were always shushed if we asked too many questions about it, even by our own mothers", Kavita, our Digital Head, who grew up in Banda, told us.
Pratibha devi of Bakta Bujurg village, tells us, quite unequivocally, that cloth has greater absorption power than sanitary pads. However, she wouldn't know, she affirms, since she's never used a pad. Pratibha also re-uses cloth, "After I've washed it, I stuff it inside the almirah. Once it's dried, the same cloth waits out its 28-30 days, until it's fished out again, from the back of the almirah."
Similar to the talks on condoms, talks on menstrual hygiene continue to be ineffectual.
The shame associated with menstruation is, arguably, the biggest reason for the continued lack of awareness in most parts of rural, and even semi-urban India. Time and again, we hear of large swathes of old saris being cut into square and rectangular pieces for the girls and women of the house. "And this was an activity meant to be a secret. Just like the actual mahavari (period)," a colleague tells us. Shame is the reason why Anita burns the cloth and Pratibha stuffs it inside the recesses of her cupboard – no man or child should ever be able to see it. There should be no visual cues to the very existence of menstruation. The R Balki movie based on Arunachalam Muruganantham, Padman, starring Akshay Kumar, narrates the shame and humiliation that has always been intrinsic to something as normal as getting your period.
Sangeeta Pandey, the local Asha worker in Chitrakoot, tells us that she speaks to rural women about how using cloth is unhygienic nature of cloth and can spread of infections, but it is not really something either she or the local women take seriously. Similar to the talks on condoms, talks on menstrual hygiene continue to be ineffectual.
Add to all of the above, a 12% GST on sanitary pads -- that have also been categorised as a luxury good -- makes for a bloody situation.