The problem (Monthly) that I am going to describe is true although inconceivable. Menstruating women are till date considered ‘impure’ according to the Hindus. In India menstruation still remains a social stigma and it is one of the phenomena that inject the thought of ‘inferiority among women.
In 2019 I was in a very remote village of the Saryu valley situated in the higher Himalayas for my dissertation research purpose. The village was 5km away from the road head. I was staying with a family there. The household head of the family had been the Gram Pradhan of the village. He had great knowledge about medicinal plants and had terraces where he had grown multiple Ayurvedic herbs (जड़ी-बूटी). They were Thakurs and had enough land which gave them relatively, a higher socioeconomic status.
One day I was sitting and chatting with the lady of the house, Bhuli Devi, Bubu’s daughter-in-law, who also works as an Aganwadi worker. She had two sons and one daughter. In Himalayan villages, it’s a rare sight to see a woman sitting and warming herself leisurely.
Women in Uttarakhand usually get up at 3:30-4:00 am, feed the livestock at home, milks the buffalo and cow, perform other household chores, and leave for the forest to collect fuelwood or fodder. In the month of October and November, they have to store fodder and fuelwood for the entire winter season. They pack their lunch and return home after 6-7 hours of unpaid service. After the sun sets, they again engage in household work as male counterparts are drunk by then.
“Five Days ‘Monthly’ Service”
Seeing Bhuli Devi sitting idly on a day, I asked her if it was a holiday at school she laughed and said,
“अगले पाँच दिन मैं डूटी नहीं जाऊँगी, मैं अलग हुई हूँ”
(I won’t be going to school for the next 5 days, I am separated).
Her husband called from behind,
“अरे, उसको का पता अलग होना क्या हुता है उसको बता ‘मन्थ्ली’ चल रहा है”
(What would she know about separation tell her you are having ‘monthly’).
Monthly was a euphemism for periods in the village. I asked her,
“वाह, आपको ‘मन्थ्ली’ की छुट्टी मिलती है!”
(Wow, You get leave from school when you have ‘monthly’ issues”).
She said, “हाँ!’ (Yes!).
Her husband said,
“पूरे महीने ये हमारे लिए खाना बनाती है पर महीने के पाँच दिन हम इनकी सेवा करते हैं?
(My wife does the household chores and cooks for the family for 25 days in a month but for these 5 days I take the job).
I offered her some chips and saw her extending her shawl being cautious for not touching me. The lady unrevealed that during ‘monthly’, they cannot visit temples, not even take the path which goes through the temple. In the village, there was a way that cut across the terrace farm. Mensurating women were supposed to take it to avoid their proximity to the temple.
Mensurating women cannot enter their own house premises and even worse they have to sleep in the cowshed with cattle. The lady complained,
“गौथ (गाय के रहने की जगह) में सोना पड़ता है, नींद नहीं आती है, पूरे शरीर में दर्द होता है। मैं तो तीसरे दिन से रसोईघर में सो लेती हूँ पर गाँव की औरतें पूरे पाँच दिन गौथ में सोथी है।”
(women during ‘monthly’ have to sleep in the cowshed, I am unable to sleep, my entire body aches. From the third day I am allowed to sleep in the kitchen but the other women stay in the shed for all five days).
Every village has a common area where menstruating women have to go in order to bathe every day.
“हर रोज़ गधेरे में जाके नहाना पड़ता है चाहे, बरसात हो या बरफ पड़े”
(Every day we have to go to the stream to bathe irrespective of rain or snow).
This area is away from the main settlements and therefore women have to walk a mile in hilly terrain to reach the area.
“और जब ‘मन्थ्ली’ ख़त्म हो जाते है तो कम्बल भी गधेरे (पानी की धारा) लेजाकर धोना पड़ता है, बहुत शरम आती है पर क्या करें?।
(When the periods are over, we have to take the blanket to the stream and wash it, it is embarrassing but what can be done).
The women are just exempted from household chores other duties like gathering fodder or fuelwood are practiced. The lady sadly remarked,
“अरे बहुत गंदा है पर पहाड़ में अगर मुझे अपनी बेटी की शादी तय करनी हो तो मैं तराई (मैदान) में करवाऊँगी”.
(If I have to get my daughter married, I will get her married in Tarai (plains) the condition in the hills is dreadful).
It was the month of November cold winds were gusting through the mountains; it started snowing after a while. It was extremely cold the thought that all the ladies spend five days of every month (monthly) in the cowshed runs chills down my spine even today.
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