The Scarlet Hue: Sacred or Taboo?

The Scarlet Hue: Sacred or Taboo?

The color of our blood is Red.

India is a country that is adorned with temples where a Goddess' menstruation is celebrated with great pomp.

It is ironic, however, that menstruation, which is a natural biological cycle is considered a taboo, and rarely discussed openly.

Red, which is otherwise considered as a symbol of good luck and fortune becomes a source of shame and impurity for women. They are denied entry into temples and restricted from movement in their own homes.

The Scarlet Hue: Sacred or Taboo?
Poor menstrual hygiene and lack of awareness has led to high dropout rates among girls after attaining puberty to escape the stigma.

Puberty is a rite of passage into adulthood, not a notice of termination of one's ambitions and freedom. This dichotomy evokes intrigue, prompting one to dwell into contrasting nature of its deep symbolism.

A cross-cultural study reveals how Red has historically signified power, strength, and vitality. Both the east and west equally embrace it as a harbinger of prosperity and development.

In Asia, weddings and other occasions are incomplete without vibrant vermilion dyed outfits that add to the celebrations and fanfare.

Yet, in our culture, when a woman menstruates, she is isolated from the entire household and restricted from moving about freely. She is denied entry into temples and kitchens. She is deemed "impure" for the duration of her period. Everything she touches is rendered dirty. This belief has no scientific basis and is grossly demeaning to the individual.

The secrecy surrounding menstruation has led to a lack of awareness of menstrual hygiene and healthy sexual practices. This doesn't come as a surprise given the deplorable condition of sex education in the country. Puberty and the changes it induces in children is rarely acknowledged. Due to lack of credible information from reliable sources, kids are left to fend for themselves and often feed on misinformation and highly inaccurate ideas.

The cycle of ignorance and fallacy continues.

A 2019 article in the Global Citizen reported, "In 2018, India declared tampons and sanitary napkins tax-free, but most sanitary pads cost between 5 to 12 rupees (8 cents to 20 cents) per pad, which is a luxury for the nearly 800 million people who live on less than $1.90 a day".

Still, the removal of taxes has failed to make pads accessible to the most deprived sections of society. Government sanctioned pads are nowhere near good for use and flawed in design. Women have to resort to rags, hay, etc. which are highly risky and contribute to a plethora of diseases.

Pads are not biodegradable, hence their safe disposal is also a cause of worry. Incinerators are expensive and not adequate in numbers to burn all the used pads generated. This adds to the already bludgeoning levels of pollution in the nation.

In recent years, alternate eco-friendly measures have emerged in the market. Menstrual cups, tampons, reusable pads etc.serve as better alternatives but are not cost-effective and beyond the reach of a majority of women.

While activists fight for making effective sanitary pads accessible to the masses, there is another fight raging at the front. Exclusionary practices hinged on the "impurity" of women during menstruation which forbids them from entering places of worship is a sexist and derogatory practice.

The Scarlet Hue: Sacred or Taboo?
The Sabarimala Case of Kerala caused a huge outcry in the country. Credit:

Women who had attained puberty and started menstruating were banned from entering the revered temple of God Ayappa in Sabarimala, citing that women who had attained reproductive capabilities would be a distraction and defile the sanctity and purity of the temple. Defiant activists thronged the temple despite huge criticism and threats which is proof of their indomitable spirits.

A historic judgment by the Supreme Court on 28 September 2018 lifted the ban on the entry of women of reproductive age. However, the case hasn't been settled yet and is still marred with controversy and review petitions.

While some cultures celebrate menstruation and view it as a symbol of fertility and power, others deem it filthy. The question that remains to be asked is whether the process should warrant fanfare or just be treated as a normal biological phenomenon.

The Scarlet Hue: Sacred or Taboo?
The practice of "Tuloni Biya" which roughly translates to small marriage is conducted in several communities of Assam. Credit: David Dutta;

When girls attain puberty, she is immediately isolated from the rest of the society and under house arrest for the remainder of her period. At a time when she should be fed nutritious food, she is made to follow dietary restrictions, forbidden from meeting male counterparts, and barred from stepping out of her room. A grand wedding to a banana tree is arranged which resembles a real wedding in all respects.

In an instant, the innocent girl is forcibly transformed into a woman, with constraints on her earlier freedom, which was already limited in scope.

Girls as young as 12 are instructed to leave their "childlike" ways which are considered unbecoming of a woman.

Behind the veil of a seemingly harmless practice lies the vicious attempts of society to clamp down on a child's independence and free will. She is forced to grow up, to limit herself. Her reproductive abilities make her liable to society's skewed gender norms and rules, she is a threat if not controlled through indoctrination and imposed shame.

The Scarlet Hue: Sacred or Taboo?
Banished For Bleeding - The women forced to move out of home when they have their periods. Credits: BBC News

In our neighboring Himalayan nation, menstruating women in certain villages are relegated to isolation huts. These poorly built establishments are not at all favorable for residence and lack basic amenities. There have been numerous cases of women being bitten to death by snakes in these huts and contracting lethal diseases due to the unsanitary living conditions.

In a world where women are fighting battles every day for equality and respect, the taboo regarding menstruation is disheartening.

Our biological configuration shouldn't make us impure or sullied. Menstruation is a natural process, not a signifier of weakness and filth. Affirmative action and open dialogue is the need of the hour. The veil of secrecy needs to be lifted. Menses shouldn't signal the end of one's freedom and dignity. Period.

Share with us your thoughts in the comments section below.


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