Editor’s Note: First Person is a series of personal essays exploring identity and personal points of view that shape who we are. The latest contributor, Anisha Bhavnani, is an 18-year-old student in Mumbai, India. She is studying social sciences and humanities at St. Xavier’s College. A version of this piece first appeared on CNN iReport and her personal blog, Adoxographia.
Anisha Bhavnani was reprimanded for entering a temple while she had her period
"I refuse to be treated as less capable, weaker, dirty or impure," she writes
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Six years ago, I was in the fifth grade and my teachers were planning a school trip to the nearby town of Karjat. A hundred chatty students were to go there by bus, engage in a little sightseeing and return at night.
At that age, getting a monthly visit from a certain bloody friend was relatively uncommon. The boys were kept in the dark and my friends and I talked about it in hushed tones. Getting one’s period was frightening and no one was particularly excited about this coming of age rite. To make us feel more comfortable, the teachers asked us to inform them if we got our periods and reassured us that we’d be taken care of.
I got mine on the day of the trip. It wasn’t my first time, but I informed a teacher anyway and hopped on the bus.
One of the places of interest in Karjat was a huge, historic temple. My classmates and I went inside and marveled at the carvings (or picked our noses; I don’t remember). As we exited, another teacher pulled me aside and asked me if I had my period. I said yes. Her expression changed instantly and in a terrifying, angry voice, she told me this:
“How did you go inside the temple then? Don’t you know you’re not supposed to? Hasn’t your mother told you that you can’t step inside a temple when you have your period? Call your mother tomorrow; I want to meet her!”
I thought I’d made the largest blunder of my life. I was mortified. I apologized and got onto the bus, where I spent the entire ride home nearly in tears.
I didn’t understand why my entering a temple was such a big deal, and I was confused and anxious about what she’d say to my mother the next day. As I frantically told my mom what the teacher had said, a look of disgust crossed her face and she told me to relax. She explained to me that we don’t believe in these things. She shrugged off the teacher’s words and told me that it was a dumb superstition.
The next day, I didn’t meet the teacher and she forgot all about it. But she had shamed me for entering the scary world of puberty, just because I’d visited a temple. What kind of human being does that to a harmless child?
My mother showed me that getting my period doesn’t make me a bad or abnormal person. But others don’t seem to agree. I see variations of this incident happening around me every day.
In my friend’s family, when women have their period, they don’t enter the kitchen. They’re not allowed to cook. I know a family who doesn’t allow their maid to enter their house when it’s her time of the month. Recently, my aunt wanted me to attend a neighbor’s pooja – a type of Hindu prayer ritual – but the instant I told her I had my period, she asked me not to come. She told me that it’s disrespectful. I was shocked.
I hate this belief. I hate that women mindlessly follow it and men advocate it. Women are considered sick, impure and even untouchable when they’re having their period. So, God obviously hates me when I’m on my period because I can’t hang out with him in a temple. Food hates me, too, because I can’t enter the kitchen to spread butter on bread. I guess some people also hate me, because I can’t enter their house.
Women of India: The next time someone asks you not to go to temple or cook pasta when your red friend is visiting, ask them to take a hike. Ask them why they believe in such archaic customs. And if you’re a person who has been believing these sick rules for so long:
Shame on you for making women follow your Stone Age way of life and forcing them to feel different and abnormal because of a normal, healthy biological occurrence.
Women don’t contaminate an area or spiritual idea by bleeding. Menstrual blood is not dirty or impure. So if you still believe in your silly custom, I’m sorry, but no entering the kitchen or temple when you cut your knee on a sharp corner.
I refuse to be treated as less capable, weaker, dirty or impure for being a woman. God loves all his children: rich or poor, man or woman, menstruating or not. It’s high time we speak openly about menstruation in India, a country that truly needs to quash its taboos one at a time. I think talking and writing about it freely is the only way we’ll get it done.
I bleed. Deal with it.