India

Why are Indian women 'Happy to Bleed'?

  • 23 November 2015
  • From the section India
A woman holds a #HappyToBleed poster Image copyright K Fayaz Ahmad

After an Indian temple chief recently said he would allow women to enter the shrine only after a machine was invented to detect if they were "pure" - meaning that they weren't menstruating - outraged women have launched a #HappyToBleed campaign on Facebook to protest against the "sexist statement", writes the BBC's Geeta Pandey in Delhi.

Menstruation is generally a taboo topic in India, something that is rarely talked about openly.

But at the weekend, several photographs popped up on my Facebook page of young Indian women holding placards - some made up of sanitary napkins and tampons - with the slogan "Happy To Bleed".

Image copyright #HappyToBleed
Image copyright K Fayaz Ahmad

A little bit of research led me to this petition, started by college student Nikita Azad, who was annoyed by the sexist remarks made by the head of the famous Sabarimala temple in Kerala.

"A time will come when people will ask if all women should be disallowed from entering the temple throughout the year," Prayar Gopalakrishnan, who recently took charge of the hilltop temple dedicated to Lord Ayyappa, told reporters earlier this month.

"These days there are machines that can scan bodies and check for weapons. There will be a day when a machine is invented to scan if it is the 'right time' for a woman to enter the temple. When that machine is invented, we will talk about letting women inside," he added.

Image copyright K Fayaz Ahmad
Image copyright K Fayaz Ahmad

Ms Azad insists that there is no "right time" to go into a temple and that women should have to right to go "wherever they want to and whenever they want to".

The temple priest's comments, she says, reinforce misogyny and strengthen the myths that revolve around women, and that "Happy To Bleed" is a counter-campaign against menstrual taboos.

Hinduism regards menstruating women as unclean so, during her periods, a woman is not allowed to enter the temple, touch any idols, enter the kitchen or even touch the pickle jar.

Image copyright K Fayaz Ahmad

Many Hindu temples in India - and also globally - have prominent notices displayed at the entrance telling menstruating women that they are not welcome, and many devout Hindu women voluntarily keep away from temples when they are menstruating.

But the Sabarimala bars all women in the reproductive age from entering the temple.

The temple website explains that as Lord Ayyappa was "Nithya Brahmachari - or celibate - women between the 10-50 age group are not allowed to enter Sabarimala".

The website adds, rather threateningly, that "such women who try to enter Sabarimala will be prevented by (the) authorities" from doing so.

Ms Azad says "we don't believe in religion that considers half the world impure" and that theirs is "not a temple-entry campaign" - it's "a protest against patriarchy and gender discriminatory practices prevalent in our society" and that they are fighting against sexism and age-old taboos.

Since its launch on Saturday, #HappyToBleed has received a lot of responses, especially from young urban Indian women.

"More than 100 women have posted their photographs on Facebook holding banners and placards, with catchy slogans, and many more have shared these photos on their timelines," Ms Azad told the BBC.

Image copyright K Fayaz Ahmad

The campaign has also been picked up by many people on Twitter who have written in with messages of support.

Some, however, have also wondered how women can be "happy" to bleed since periods can often be pretty painful.

"We are using happy as a word to express sarcasm - as a satire, to taunt the authorities, the patriarchal forces which attach impurity with menstruation," Ms Azad explains.

"It may be painful, but it's perfectly normal to bleed and it does not make me impure," she adds.

Listen to BBC 100 Women programmes here.

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