“We use cloths during our menstruation period which we have to recycle but because of shortage of water, it is not possible,” says Deepali Balote a 14-year-old girl from Dolasne drought hit village of Ahmendnagar city in Maharashtra. But that is not all. The girls in rural India are not allowed to touch water taps or vessels because it is believed that they will pollute it. “We cannot cook for four days, cannot touch idols and cannot touch pickles or other cooked food while menstruating,’’ she adds.
This is a common scenario in the villages across India. Menstruation is still considered a taboo causing a real harm especially to girls who have just reached their puberty. The girls feel shy and avoid talking about the problems that they face. Many women and girls in this village are found to use materials such as old rags and newspaper every month due to unavailability of sanitary products and water during the time of periods.
Government of India has been promising sanitation infrastructure for quite some time. With the approval of the National Urban Sanitation Policy in December 2008, the Indian government seeks to address the gap of sanitation in rural areas and organize a systematic sanitation programme. However, in Dolasne, Darewadi and many other villages the gap of sanitation still exists.
“It is difficult to get water from the tankers,” says Aruna Ganesh Shivsagar . She despite being eight months pregnant carries about five buckets of water every day. Like Aruna there are many other women who face similar problems.
These women are also told not to cook food when they menstruate because they will pollute it. They are also not allowed to touch idols as it is believed that they will defile them. Pickles are also not allowed to be touched as they will go rotten by their touch.
The health related problems is one of the main issues the girls and women face during the time of menstruation. Lack of proper hygiene during menstruation also attracts lot of infections.
Ahemadnagar being one of the 19 pilot cities of Maharashtra is yet to come up with a proper sanitation plan. “There is no toilet in my house and it is really painful to always go to the fields,” says Laxmibai Baban Jadhav. The situation worsens during the drought season. “Forget washing clothes, there is no water even to wash ourselves during the time of drought,” she said. There are hundreds of these villagers who defecate in the open because of the lack of access to toilets. It is because of this that there are a lot of health related problems such as infection of the small intestine and lack of nutrients for proper growth and development.
Beyond superstition and discrimination, many Indian women face lack of clean, safe and proper lavatory facilities. Sanitation is among the most dismal and depressing topics in Ahmednagar. It is stuck at a primitive stage and very few people have access to toilets.
Even for the people who want to adopt proper sanitation by constructing a toilet near their house are unhappy. The water shortage has affected them a great deal in achieving proper sanitation facility as their toilet construction has been on hold. “I am regretting my decision to construct a toilet as it has been kept on hold for two years now. I am still going to the fields,” says Savita Roy Das Pawde, resident of Dalewadi village.
Water shortage has heightened the problem of menstruation and sanitation. It is indeed a trying time for women to bathe during the time of menstruation because of the scarcity of water. Forget about proper disposable methods, these women do not even have any privacy when they have to change their sanitary cloth. It has also been observed that there has been a drastic drop in the number of girl students after they reach puberty. “There is no toilet facility in my school and I have nowhere to change or dispose of my pad. My family insists on me to stay at home and get married,” says Dipali Arun Auti class 9 student of Bhairavnath Madhyamik Vidyalaya in Dolasne.
These girls and women do not bathe during menstruation and most of them reuse previously used cloths for absorption. Without any accurate knowledge about menstrual hygiene, the girls adhere only to cultural practices and taboos. In fact, bathing restrictions is just one example from the wide range of menstrual taboos that they go through.
It will take several years or probably generations to bring in systematic sanitation in rural India. Apart from having a proper lavatory it is education also that matters. The taboo needs to be changed. Anecdotally, it is observed that only those girls in India who do not believe in any superstitions regarding menstruation are those with educated mothers. The best way to change the minds of all the future women in Ahmednagar is to keep the girls in school today and to have basic lavatory facilities are one of the easiest way to do that.