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"Menstruation Stigmatized In Our Society, No Reason To Call Menstruating Women Impure": Gujarat High Court

Sparsh Upadhyay
9 March 2021 12:05 PM GMT
Menstruation Stigmatized In Our Society, No Reason To Call Menstruating Women Impure: Gujarat High Court
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The Gujarat High Court's recent 15-page order proposing to prohibit social exclusion of women based on their menstrual status at all private and public place sets out the ways in which Menstruation has been understood by the Society and across religions. The Plea before the CourtThe Bench of Justice J. B. Pardiwala and Justice Ilesh J. Vora was hearing public interest litigation...

The Gujarat High Court's recent 15-page order proposing to prohibit social exclusion of women based on their menstrual status at all private and public place sets out the ways in which Menstruation has been understood by the Society and across religions.

The Plea before the Court

The Bench of Justice J. B. Pardiwala and Justice Ilesh J. Vora was hearing public interest litigation (PIL) filed in connection with an unfortunate incident wherein, over 60 girls in a hostel of Shree Sahjanand Girls Institute in Bhuj town of Kutch were reportedly forced to strip to "prove" they were not menstruating.

Writ Applicant (Nirjhari Mukul Sinha) moved HC seeking direction for a law to specifically deal with the exclusionary practice against women on the basis of their menstrual status.

It was specifically submitted before the Court that the practice which is being followed and encouraged of exclusion of women on the basis of their menstrual status is violative of human, legal and fundamental rights of women, more particularly, those as enshrined under Articles 14, 15, 17, 19, and 21 respectively of the Constitution.

Court's observations

Acknowledging the ground reality, the Gujarat High Court observed that Menstruation has been stigmatized in our society and that the stigma has built up due to the traditional beliefs in the impurity of menstruating women and our unwillingness to discuss it normally

The Court, in a way, also expressed its astonishment as to why society, through ages, has been referring to menstruating women as "unclean" and that all religions (excluding Sikhism) refer to menstruating woman as "ritually unclean".

In Indian context, the Court observed, the mere mention of the topic has been a taboo and even to this date the cultural and social influences appear to be a hurdle for the advancement of knowledge on the subject.

The Court also traced the origin of the myth, i.e., the women who menstruate are impure, to the Vedic times and said,

"It is often been linked to Indra's slaying of Vritra. For, it has been declared in the Veda that the guilt, of killing a brahmana murder appears every month as menstrual flow as women had taken upon themselves a part of Indra's guilt."

Noting that in the Hindu faith, unless and until women are "purified", she isn't allowed to return to her family and day to day chores of her life, the Court said,

"However, scientifically it is known that the actual cause of menstruation is ovulation followed by missed chance of pregnancy that results in bleeding from the endometrial vessels and is followed by preparation of the next cycle. Therefore, there seems no reason for this notion to persist that menstruating women are "impure."

What women aren't allowed to do?

The Court observed that girls and women are subjected to restrictions in their daily lives simply because they are menstruating. Such restrictions are: -

  • Not entering the "puja" room is the major restriction among the urban girls whereas, not entering the kitchen is the main restriction among the rural girls during menstruation.
  • Menstruating girls and women are also restricted from offering prayers and touching holy books.
  • It is further believed that menstruating women are unhygienic and unclean and hence the food they prepare or handle can get contaminated.

However, the Court noted that as long as the general hygiene measures are taken into account, no scientific test has shown menstruation as the reason for spoilage of any food in making.

"Such taboos about menstruation present in many societies impact on girls' and women's emotional state, mentality and lifestyle and most importantly, health. Large numbers of girls in many less economically developed countries drop out of school when they begin menstruating", the Court noted.

Lastly, the Court issued certain directions which could be read in detail here. The important ones are mentioned below: -

  • Prohibit social exclusion of women on the basis of their menstrual status at all places, be it private or public, religious or educational;
  • Spread awareness among its citizens regarding the social exclusion of women on the basis of their menstrual status through various mediums;
  • Empowerment of women through education and increasing their role in decision-making can also aid in this regard;
  • Sensitization of health workers, Accredited Social Health Activists and Anganwadi Workers regarding menstruation biology;
  • Allocate necessary funds for the implementation of the directions;
  • The State Government should prohibit all educational institutions, hostels, and living spaces for women-studying working and others, private or public, from following social exclusion of women on the basis of their menstrual status in any manner.

Case title - Nirjhari Mukul Sinha v. Union Of India [R/Writ Petition (PIL) No. 38 of 2020]

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