Menstruation. Period. As much as I had refrained writing on this subject, I was first prompted and now compelled to do it. I had my share of thoughts and opinions when Padman had hit the floor in mid-2017. But I have a problem with people discussing a social menace only when there is a movie, campaign or a book release happening, having the said menace as its premise. Precisely the reason why I have chosen to write about it when the movie has made it to the big screen. Umpteen stances have already been taken and thousands of articles already been penned for records.
While it is relieving to see a regularity being brought on ‘Women’s issues’, it is equally appalling to have witnessed the extent to which it has been dragged – unnecessarily, that too in the wrong direction. It’s like it always starts on the right note and somewhere along the way the ulterior motives of the people get the better of them. The state of Indian women when it comes to topics like Menstruation and the medical ailments arising from it was never a revelation to the country. However, the question remains if the steps being taken in this regard are really addressing the issue or just been made nothing short of a hyperbole.
Padman, the movie – a great plunge!
I had read about Arunachalam Muruganatham much before the movie Padman was decided to be filmed on him. He is the man behind manufacturing low-cost sanitary napkins and their further provisioning to those who really need it. I am an ardent fan of Twinkle Khanna who took this plunge and thought a story like this must be brought to people’s notice and hence featured in her book ‘The Legend of Laxmi Prasad’. Padman challenge, however, came as an absurd surprise or a rather showdown to me. This article though nowhere aims at either promoting Padman or criticising it. It is a take on the related facets that arose from it and how, even after, many remedial measures being taken, we refused to budge from real context.
Padman, the Challenge – A big no-no!
As much as I was happy about the movie being made, I was not too pleased with this promotional tactic which has a lot of Bollywood biggies holding sanitary napkins in their hands. I did not support it as long as it didn’t ensure the reach of this to the women in the remotest part of the country. If it really did, I am happy. I am also very doubtful as to how many of those deprived women have access to smartphones to view this gimmick in the first place, and in case they have what would they do without an internet connection.
And if the idea is to upsurge the availability of low-cost napkins to those needy women, why the people in the pictures holding the most expensive brands? If they think it is going to break any kind of ceiling or ice, I hope they know the movie alone can do it if it has to. I also do not believe an Akshay Kumar starrer need a promotional spree of this magnitude. Overdoing will only question the intent and spoil the context.
What cinema is actually supposed to do?
A month back on the breakfast table, my father suddenly out of curiosity asked me as to what this Padman movie was all about. Obviously, he had no idea about it because if he had, he would have chosen to keep mum on the subject. But I was happy he did and I frankly told him and gave me insights on it. That’s what Padman and NOT Padman challenge did to me. That to me was a big win. That broke the ice for me after 27 years of my existence in my father’s life. We shouldn’t barge into conversations something only because we want to be a part of it. Because if we do it, we snatch from its normalcy ourselves. My discussion with my father on this seemed as normal as normal can get.
Padman releasing and people cashing!
There have been reports and blog posts where the act of using old rags and dirty shags during menstruation have been mentioned as a medically harmfully practice. But what is more surprising is the research that had gone into this. People have literally put up a specific number to the mass of women resorting to this. Not because they want to address these issues but as to how Padman makers have been embezzling out on figures incorrectly. One of these preposterous articles also mentioned that the use of sand & ashes to cease the blood flow during the period was not medically tested and might as well be safe since the practice has prevailed over years. I mean really? All this to prove a movie wrong!
I felt rather confused after reading such posts and decided to not to overload myself of excessive browsing. I doubt if these people, instead of creating this rigmarole, have ever really worked through the complications and tried placing a solution to this. It seems as if they are trying to bog the makers down than to actually helping those women (whatever the number is) with the problems they face. Does that change the fact that women, irrespective of what number they are, do suffer in most parts of the country for lack of better hygienic practices? That it does lead to urinal infections and at time uterus cancers as well. Where did the number anyways relate and resolve the glitch? I fail to understand.
Similar absurd campaigns which only ‘think’ they are addressing the issue!
When a campaign called ‘happy to bleed’ in November 2015 surfaced, I was disgusted to see men and women holding bloodstained pads and even underpants and clicking selfies. Why? I was shocked and disappointed to know that this was done because a yet another moron (read a politician) tried installing a machine which would spot and stop menstruating women entering a particular temple complex. That politician wouldn’t have gained this much publicity ever in his life that this campaign brought to him.
I don’t think it was at all required to stoop down to a level as low as this and compromise on your own privacy just to prove a point about something which is one gospel truth in itself. Something that is responsible for bringing life into this world. Something that should rather be considered holy. And when people chose to react on it, that too in a manner as sickening as this, they questioned its sanctity. The politician made it dirty, people made it filthier. The campaign, however, came to force, arose and stopped, with nothing concrete coming to fore. The problems remained. The shame remained. The pain remained.
Construing or misconstruing Menstruation?
There is no taking away from the fact that a natural thing like Menstruation was considered a taboo in India and the picture hasn’t changed much now. The chemist still slips that packet of sanitary pads like a smuggler. Periods are still considered a matter of shame. The women are still considered impure when they are bleeding and are abstained from involving in anything pious or religious. A subject like Menstruation doesn’t need rallies and campaigns, as much as it needs the women being educated of hygienic practices and solutions with actually directing them to the right path to avail it. All it needs is a little normalcy may be.
There will never be a sense of normalcy prevailing unless people take it normal themselves. And periods are as normal as peeing, pooping or performing sex for that matter. The privacy involved in these acts is the same privacy involved in periods and nothing more than that. This is also the discretion that a woman exercise when she chooses to not to speak about her Period. This does not mean she is ashamed of it. Over-indulgence hauls the intent is all that I am trying to say!
Will cinema only do?
The global reach of cinema is definitely an effective medium to address social stigmas. However, the war, be it about Menstruation or any other issue will not be over at just this. Since an idea remains an idea unless it has right set of people and resources involved in it. Masters like Arunachalam and Manush Chillar (the current holder of world beauty pageant) have been the silent contributors to this and much more like them are needed. They have been educating people on female hygiene and prolifically increasing the availability of low-cost sanitary napkins to those who can’t afford it. And this is not limited to rural women in specific. A fair part of poverty resides in urban areas as well and they equally are needed to be covered in the ambit.
I hope against hope that we see a time where when a girl experiences menstruation for the first time, it not only involves her mother but her father too. When she doesn’t have to embarrassingly escape the sight of her brother before disposing of a sanitary napkin. Where an act of shame is replaced by an act of regularity. And this shouldn’t be considered a mandate but a step where the process of normalization starts at home. May we ascend to a time where comprehending simple things remain simple and not made chaotic. May we not succumb to illusions/superstitions that involves inhumanity. May we sensitise our generations in a way that only trickles liberated mindset for posterity.