Banished for menstruating: the Indian women isolated while they bleed
Shame on us and some of our customs where we treat our women folks with less than dignity. A widow is still kept away from participating in weddings of even their sisters. This, female foeticide, triple talaq, and the female genital mutilation are horrible practices we have allowed. We have to start speaking up.
Banished for menstruating: the Indian women isolated while
Women in parts of India are sent to basic
hutsoutside their villages during their periods, as the stigma of
menstruation proves hard to overcome
Javardhan, 25, felt dread and trepidation as she got ready to spend five days in
a gaokor – a hut outside her village where girls and women
are banished during menstruation.
the rainy season, it is all the more difficult to stay in a gaokor because water comes inside and sometimes the roof
leaks,” says Javardhan, who lives in Sitatola, a village in central India’s
Maharashtra state. Each month, custom dictates that she must stay in the
thatched hut on the edge of a forest, sometimes on her own, or, if she’s lucky,
with another woman.
the huts are considered public property, no one takes responsibility for their
upkeep. Gaokors lack a kitchen as women who are menstruating are not
allowed to cook; those staying inside rely on family to bring them food and
other items. Women usually sleep on
the floor with just a thick sheet for a mattress, which is folded and used as a
cushion during the day.
the location of the huts, it is not uncommon for wild animals to make an
appearance, and there have been reports of women dying from snakebites while
staying in gaokors.
visited 223 gaokors in tribal areas and nearly 98% lack even a proper
bed, leave alone electricity and other basic amenities. Most of
the gaokors have temporary bathrooms made with bamboo,” says Dr Dilip
Barsagade, the founder of local NGO Society of People’s Action in Rural Services
and Health (Sparsh), which recently brought
the practice to the attention of the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC).
practice of banishing women and girls is most prevalent among the Gond and
Madiya ethnic groups. The Gonds are the largest indigenous group in central India and hail from the states
of Maharashtra, Chhattisgarh, Andhra Pradesh and Orissa.
don’t like staying in a gaokor … there is nothing to do and I cannot
play,” says Sangita Kumra, 14. “Luckily, so far I have never stayed alone, but I
am scared that I might have to. My friend once had to stay alone, and the very
mention of it would make her cry. My mother tells me that this is our custom and
we have to do it.”
Haridas, 23, from Sitatola, is resigned to her fate. “I feel extremely bad that
for five days I cannot even touch the utensils of my own kitchen. But what can
we do? We have to follow our tradition and customs,” she says. “Most of the time
we just sit and talk [while in a gaokor] because there is nothing else
five days I cannot even touch the utensils of my own
are two gaokors in Sitatola, home to about 20 families. Although there
have been incidents of harassment, women are generally left alone because they
are considered impure while they have their periods. There have been moves to
improve the conditions of the gaokors, but not to end the practice.
have brought gaokors closer to the village and are planning to put beds
in them,” says Haridas Namdev Kumra, 25, a member of the village’s Gram
Panchayat, a local self-governing body.
local administrators have selected 100 gaokors to supply with basic
amenities such as water, and cupboards with plates and cups.
have a school where we are teaching 350 girls and we try to educate them that
menstruation is a natural process. We believe that everything is linked to
education,” says Jagan Bhau, from Lok Biradari Prakalp, an organisation
that runs social projects in Maharashtra.
is also trying to address the problem by increasing women’s awareness of health
and hygiene. Barsagade says the organisation has run 12 workshops in remote
villages as well as working with local government-sponsored childcare centres;
it also visits gaokors to speak to women about menstruation. “Because
it is a sensitive topic, we try to educate them about health and hygiene without
mentioning gaokor,” he says.
media campaigns have been launched to challenge the stigma and taboos around
menstruation. In April, the Kachra Project launched the
#periodforchange campaign, which encouraged discussion of the topic.
celebrities joined another campaign – #HappyToBleed,
launched in response to a comment from the head of a Hindu temple, who said
women would be permitted to enter the temple once there are machines to detect
if they are “impure” or “pure”.
hope is that the campaign will help to change attitudes. Arpita Bhagat, founder
of the Kachra Project, says: “An extremely small section of modern Indian men
are now open to talking about it [menstruation] in general conversation –
otherwise, it remains a taboo and a