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  • Rewati Karki

Disability and Menstruation

I was born in a society where physical appearance is considered a big deal. At an early age, the thought of my menstruation cycle worried my parents more than me. It was also because I was unaware of the fact that this was going to be way more difficult than I had imagined.

Maybe I shouldn’t say this but I have to admit that I am probably the most privileged disabled person I know. I spent my entire teenage cursing at myself and my parents, each day pointing out my problem and reminding them of all the things that I can’t do but all my friends can. Despite my physical disability, I have had the privilege to complete my schooling from a normal school and today I am pursuing my Bachelor of Social Work from an ordinary college. My point is that I am one among the few disabled who are lucky to have these privileges, so I want to give back to society.

As a member of a typical middle class family that strictly follows the Hindu faith, I grew up listening to and abiding by hundreds of rules of the Gods and Goddesses. The fact that we still follow these rules today baffles me. When we ask about the rationale behind these things, our elders are quick with their answers such as, “You do not question the Gods''. “The rules have been here since generations”. “Not following the rules is a sin and would bring an unimaginable curse”. I had my first period when I was 13, and since then I have been bound by the rules. I was not allowed to come out of the room for the next 22 days. The rules said I would not be seen by any males, so I could only use the toilet when no male members were around. The kitchen was off limits and a separate plate was given to me to use for the duration of my menstruation. Nobody could touch me or any plates, cups, bowls, anything I had used until the day I stopped bleeding and had showered and cleaned and changed all the sheets. As a final golden rule, I had to sprinkle purified water dipped in gold on surfaces I had touched, and voila, I was now clean, pure and ready to be touched again.

So, for the four days of every month, I am untouchable, impure and segregated from the rest of my family and forbidden to participate in any festival or ritual, including visits to temples, daily prayers, and putting tika on. Participating in Dashain, Tihar or Saradhya would be an even greater sin. I have lost count of how many festive occasions I have missed and how many Dashain blessings I have missed from my grandparents. It doesn’t feel nice to see that I am not there in many family photos. I am a believer of God and have been fasting every Tuesday for the last 9 years. Religious events also have an important social significance for me. It brings me closer to my loved ones and makes the bonds stronger. In the modern age, we tend to look at things rationally and all these rules seem absurd. I understand the benefits that the social aspects of religion bring but despise the illogical rules that negate all these benefits. It is painful to accept how deep-rooted some of these beliefs are. It is sad that this is considered just “normal” rituals followed by “good” women in our society. While there are millions of things you will miss due to your period, one thing you will never miss are the cramps. As if the mood swings, restlessness and cramps are not enough, the stress or should I say the “norm” of following the age-old rules is something many of us will have to endure throughout our lives.

Since last year, I have been working/teaching/counseling in an organization for disabled individuals, where every day I have to encounter children with every kind of disability- from CP, Down syndrome to Global development delay, autism and more. Every day I come across innocent children who have no idea how cruel and how miserable the real world is. One of the major concerns of every girl in the organization is period. Every disabled woman thinks that being on a period is a curse and it doesn’t help that their own parents have a mindset that to be born a girl who is disabled, is the worst curse that anybody can get. I really don’t want to focus on others’ negative opinions on this matter, but I used to think that every month I was experiencing a never-ending curse. I wished that I could actually get rid of these things forever. As a teenager, I always used to have negative thoughts. I used to think “I wish I would die by the overflow of blood” because I used to have period cramps like hell. Almost every month, my uniform/skirt used to be covered in blood until I reached home. But as I grew up, I learnt that periods are as natural as breathing, and it is one of the biggest gifts of nature to women. From the moment you have your periods, you are capable of becoming a mother. When I think now about the times I messed up my uniform, I think it was because one of my hands was barely functional and my other hand could alone couldn’t properly do tasks that required two. At times, even today I have these problems but now I am used to it and can often handle them well. Until I reach my menopause, I will make mistakes and learn. For the pain, I use meftal (mefenamic acid- to be used wisely as per doctor’s recommendation) and a hot water bag which helps me calm down.

One and half months before this second lockdown started, I, along with another co-worker, took a class about good touch and bad touch. There I learned many things and heard true stories that I had only seen in movies or read in books. One of the students had been raped by one of her own family members and the tragic thing was that she didn't even know it was something bad until we told her. There were also cases like that of a 15-year-old who got pregnant and her parents took her to the hospital to abort her child and hide all of this from society. Some of them cried so hard after knowing that it was a bad touch. From that day I considered myself the luckiest disabled. Except for harassment in public transport and other minor harassment, I haven’t faced (touchwood) the major types of abuse. I have also realized how vulnerable women with a disability really are. In terms of education, in terms of personal security, my parents have been providing me with everything since the day of my birth and I am really thankful for that. I always feel that education is the only thing that can teach an individual about what is right and what is wrong. So, please don’t make a disabled person more disabled by prohibiting them from receiving education. Rather than locking them in a room, let them learn something- if not about the outer world, at least about themselves.

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