Menstruating women continue to suffer

Those from the Golla community are expected to stay away from their homes during menstruation.

February 15, 2016 08:13 am | Updated November 17, 2021 04:16 am IST - Tirumalapura, Holalkere (Chitradurga district):

Menstruating women at the government school at Tirumalapura in Chitradurga district. Photo: Sudhakara Jain

Menstruating women at the government school at Tirumalapura in Chitradurga district. Photo: Sudhakara Jain

Three women from the Golla community lie on a thick blanket in a government school compound at Tirumalapura. “It’s that time of the month,” says one of them in a matter-of-fact tone.

In this corner of India — in gollarahattis at Holalkere of Chitradurga district, which happens to be Social Welfare Minister H. Anjaneya’s constituency — it is the norm for menstruating girls and women to stay away from daily duties. For the first three days of their menstrual cycle, they cannot go home or mingle with people in their settlement. This form of ostracism, which is also enforced on women who have just given birth, has existed for a very long time.

Efforts by the State government to stop this practice — through awareness camps and sometimes even using the police — have had little impact, as this form of banishment is steeped in long-held beliefs of the community. This continues despite the fact that many in the community are now educated.

It was late afternoon on a Saturday when The Hindu visited the village school. The students had left after a half day of school. “During school hours, we leave the compound and sit under a tree,” says Chandramma (30).

Gowramma C. (21) says that they are “accustomed” to this tradition and have never questioned their elders. “There was no thought of even asking if I should follow it. Everyone in my village does this, and I too have to follow it,” she says.

Nights are the most difficult. It’s cold and dark, but the company of the women give Gowramma solace. She says her husband is “kind enough” to drop off food, and she uses a public toilet. At the end of the third day, she is deemed “pure” enough to return to the community.

A few like Chandramma tried to question this practice and stayed at home only to give it up after earning what they call “God’s wrath”. “About five years ago, I would stay at home while menstruating. Then my daughter died and my son fell sick. That is why I am back here every month,” she says.

The local police sometimes try to put a stop to this practice. According to Chandramma, they come to the village and drop them back to their homes. “But, we return with our blankets to sit under the tree or go back to the school after they leave,” she says.

M.K. Shreerangaiah, Deputy Commissioner of Chitradurga district, says although the district administration had initiated several efforts to urge the Gollas to end this practice, they are not ready to give it up.

Some women have internalised this and claim that they are better off because of it. Vedavati T., a graduate, does not spend her temporary exile in the school compound. She says that a makeshift thatched settlement is constructed next to her house as there are six women in the family. “I am supposed to sit in the thatched hut only for one day, as it is difficult for me to cope with studies, and I cannot miss classes,” she says.

Elected representatives, too, admit that it is a problem, but say they haven’t found any concrete solution. Halappa, president of Viswanathanahalli Gram Panchayat, says that the practice is prevalent in Tirumalapura and M.A. Hatti, which has 550 houses. “There have been several health and hygiene concerns raised by the Health and Women and Child Development departments, and they are making attempts to convince the young women to put an end to this practice.”

Mahila bhavans for meetings?

The State government’s plan of building mahila bhavans for women, keeping in mind their customs, has drawn widespread criticism because it only strengthens an old practice. However, on the ground, even where there are bhavans, they are sometimes not made available for women. “These are occupied for meetings many times. We need them to use the toilet and bathroom, but we make do with school toilets if they are not available,” said Chandramma from the Golla community.

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