Ring Side View
On 12 March, Congress MLA Ninong Ering moved a private member’s resolution in the legislative assembly, seeking a day’s leave for menstruating girls and women. In an ideal situation, the resolution, whether passed or not, should have been welcomed. Instead, what we heard were elected representatives making statements that not only exposed their biases but also demeaned their chair.
Some spoke as if they did not come out from the bleeding vaginas of their moms.
Some members used objectionable patriarchal language, and they did so with such confidence, hiding behind the almost perishing cultural practices and taboo surrounding periods.
Of the members who took part in the debate, two members, Dasanglu Pul and Karikho Kri, spoke well. The rest should read about periods and why there is need for leave for girls and women.
Many women and girls are not able to function when they have their periods, so they have no choice other than staying home. Some do not go through much pain, though everybody goes through nagging discomfort and tiredness. Some may have pain sometimes. Even women and girls really don’t know how their body is going to react, so it was silly that some male members, peak mansplaining, were talking about period as if they endured it.
For the younger people outside the legislative assembly, the parochial take on menstruation, which is very natural, may have come as shocking.
For many of us, it’s normal for male siblings and colleagues to get us pads, heat the water bottle to make us feel better, or take us to the pharmacy for injection to stop the menstrual pain. But it’s also equally true that in many homes, there is no space for discussion around periods, leading to girls and women suffering in silence, or in isolation.
Amongst many tribes in the rural areas, menstruating girls and women are not allowed in certain parts of the traditional home because it’s seen as a taboo. Some tribes restrict women from taking part in rituals when menstruating. It has stayed this long because we are conditioned to follow traditional practices, but these practices will eventually go.
Legislative assembly members and others outside the house need to understand that there is no shame in bleeding because its how our body was made. If the vagina did not bleed, none of us would have been here. It will take some time to understand the basics, but we will get there. With a progressive member like Ninong Ering, who has been a vocal supporter of menstrual leave even when he was an MP, and other members who are progressive and willing to listen and learn, maybe there will be a holiday for girls and women who need it when they are menstruating.
A discussion has been initiated, though one wishes that it wasn’t as rude or unpleasant. MLA Lokam Tassar called menstruation ‘litra’ and he got away with it. Except for the Arunachal Pradesh Women’s Welfare Society, none of the organisations spoke a word in protest.
One realisation is that the legislative assembly may have gone paperless but it’s not free of prejudice and patriarchal elected representatives.