Conversation about menstruation, despite very ably made film, Padman has not yet started in the right earnest. I am not sure how many parents have talked to their children around the dining table (if they have one) or in the chuaka, the cooking place about why biological processes are dirty or polluting per se. We go to toilette every day to clean up our system, we take bath, and we cut our nails, hairs, and clean our nose, do we talk about these the same way as we talk about menstruation. But do girls have to talk about their biological features in hush hush tone? Even educated women hesitate in talking about periods and inconvenience that might be caused by it openly among male peers. Is this because men are ill informed, ill prepared and ill guided about the way one should understand and appreciate mutual biological differences? Is it that the culture is the culprit and we have allowed certain debilitating elements of our culture to prevail and persist? Why does not our curiosity about its ramifications generate conversation in a scientific manner.
All cultures have redeeming and empowering features just as these have discriminating and disempowering features. Purdah, isolation of women during menstruation periods, female foeticide and other tendencies in our culture preventing autonomy as well as agency of women are perhaps inter-connected. Self-imposed silence by even educated women on such issues at workplace or at home also needs to be broken.
Some years ago, I was teaching a class of a course CINE at IIMA on inertia and how many of us supress our desire to make a difference by learning to be helpless. A girl student very hesitatingly mentioned that the women washrooms did not have sanitary napkin dispensing machines. Sometimes, girls forget to bring the pads with them when needed and they have to rush to dormitory to fetch them and miss part of the class in the process. So I asked what should be done. She answered, these should be installed. But that is obvious. Isn’t it? But it has not happened so far. Obviously the curiosity of system, often run by men, did not trigger a question: how do lady staff and students manage such situations when periods start suddenly. I asked her to write to the administration and in a few weeks these machines were installed. Inertia of decades gave way in a few weeks because curiosity of one student: why did such an obvious thing not happen for so long.
The boys are curious as to what happens when women have periods but don’t get full information. Young girls are curious but don’t get proper scientific answer devoid of taboos and stigma. Simple biological phenomenon becomes a source of embarrassment for girls and a vain curiosity for boys. Nether understands the emotional oscillations that a girl may go through.
Curiosity can be a driver of a compassionate society and creative collaborations. We need to harness the curiosity of boys and girls about respective biology through science based metaphorical communications. Menstruation can trigger a dialogue about motherhood, natural cycles, lunar cycles, and so on. Biological systems reproduce to keep nature fertile and autopoeitic.
May be the film Padman based on the life of a grassroots innovator honoured by the Honey Bee Network and National Innovation Foundation will channelize the curiosity of young boys and girls in constructive and cooperative direction. May be it will also trigger a conversation about how curiosity triggers creative innovations. May the ensuing conversation lead the curiosity of our society to a transformation of gender relations.