A woman’s menstrual cycle is so enshrouded in taboo in India that even some girls who have been brought up in open-minded, modern, educated households in our country are forced to follow or obey at least a couple of nonsensical, superstitious beliefs.
Luckily, Aditi Gupta, the founder of Menstrupedia has decided to “touch the pickle” and educate people about a subject that is often considered taboo and embarrassing, through her website Menstrupedia. It is very inspiring to see a girl from a conservative, middle-class family hailing from Garhwa, a small town in Jharkhand, educate the society on menstrual health and hygiene.
The blog is a completely collaborative space where people from all walks of life write and share their stories and experiences on menstruation and issues related to it. Menstrupedia depicts each and every topic with a relevant illustration.
Aditi was 11 when her mother explained to her about a girl’s menstrual cycle. This was during a painful period of her life, as she reveals, “At the age of 11, I met with a serious accident and was totally bed ridden for months. My mother would fix a narrow pipe to my urinary tract to help me urinate. One day while fixing the pipe my mother saw some traces of blood in my vagina, which was actually due to a minor cut, received earlier while fixing the pipe. She thought I had started my periods and she told me about periods for the first time.”
A year later, when she actually got hers, she was made aware of the thousands dos and don’ts a girl is saddled with during this time. “I wasn’t allowed to sit on others’ beds. I wasn’t allowed to touch the place of worship. I had to wash and dry my clothes separately. I wasn’t allowed to eat or touch pickle... In short, I was treated as impure or polluted.”
If these rules were bad, the mindset of not buying sanitary napkins was worse. Aditi’s family thought nothing could be worse than being seen buying pads in a store! Fortunately this changed when she was sent to boarding school.
When she enrolled in a post graduation course at NID, two great things happened. First, she met her future husband Tuhin and second, with his support, the idea to start Menstrupedia was born. Normally most men find the subject gross, but Tuhin was different. After seeing and learning about the various inconveniences his girlfriend went through, he started educating himself.
“Tuhin told me many things that I myself did not know about periods. It occurred to us that if there are so many essentials about menstruation that are unknown to me even after having periods for the past several years, in spite of being educated, there must be millions ignorant about menstrual management.”
She thus took up a year-long project on menstrual awareness. This research project laid the grounds for Menstrupedia. “We get one lakh visitors every month on the website. More than 1,000 girls have been educated using Menstrupedia comics,” says a proud Aditi.
How did her family react to her decision to dedicate her life to educating people about menstruation? “My family is super supportive of our work and it’s my parents who have made me capable of taking up such endeavors.”
Her family and friends may have been supportive, but what about others? Which are proving to be the toughest myths to break? “We have signboards outside temples denying the entry to menstruating women. The myths are very deep rooted. It’s discrimination at the very core. Fighting the social stigma around the subject is the toughest.”
Fortunately, there are many joining her cause as the website is funded mainly through crowd funding. The couple has also partnered with Whisper, a sanitary napkin brand. Her cause takes up most of her time, so does she have any other interests? “Apart from obsessively working on Menstrupedia, I also do craft work. I make crafts out of household waste and put up the tutorials online. I love swimming too.”...