Where menstruating girls are forced to skip school
Dehradun: While we have achieved significant progress in the 21st century and have jabbed the rocky terrains of the Moon and Mars to hoist our flag, at the same time, medieval mindset is still deep-rooted in the psyche of people across the country whether it is the most literate state of the country, Kerala or the hilly state of Uttarakhand. In spite of the Supreme Court’s order, women of menstruating age are not allowed in Sabarimala Temple in Kerala. In the same way, adjacent to the international Nepal border lies Pithoragarh, where the village community prevent girls from going to school/college during their menstrual cycle. While the district administration has ruled out the occurrence of such practices, the ground reality shows a different picture.
At Sail village, in Pithoragarh district, girls are forced to miss school/college during their periods. In fact, for five to seven days every month, girls are prevented from going to school as there is a Chamu Devta temple on the way to school. It is believed that if a woman passes by the temple during her menstrual cycle, then the temple will be defiled.
In October 2018, Uttarakhand Mahila Manch (UMM), an NGO, during their ‘Jouljibi to Pancheshwar Padyatra’ found out about the practice. Uma Bhatt, a member of UMM, revealed that girls, who are students of the Sail Government Intercollege, told the members of UMM that they are not allowed to attend college for five to seven days every month, while they are on their periods. “It means that girls are bound to bunk their classes for 60 to 80 days every year,” added Uma, who is also retired professor from the University of Kumaun.
Located near the Indo-Nepal border, the Sail Government Intercollege has a total of 146 students, which includes 72 girls, who come from the surrounding villages, as the students don’t have any alternative for education. There are seven temples in the vicinity of college, including Chamu Devta temple, which evokes great religious sentiments not only for the residents of Uttarakhand but also for the Nepali immigrants who have settled in the area. People in large numbers had migrated from Nepal to Pancheshwar Valley in the district of Pithoragarh, generations ago.
Hari Priya, a student of Sail Government Intercollege, said that she doesn’t go college whenever she is menstruating, which affects her studies regularly. She is surprised that in a society where the people speak of ‘Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao’, practices arising out of conventional thinking is still prevalent in the community.
As the media reports on the issue surfaced, an inquiry team was set-up by the Chief Development Offer (CDO) of Pithoragarh. The four-member team was headed by Santosh Pandey, Sub Divisional Magistrate (SDM) while members of Nirbhaya Cell were also included, along with other officials from the administration. While they weren’t able to confirm if the claims are true, they conducted counselling to create awareness.
Santosh Pandey, SDM of Pithoragarh, denied that such a problem of girls missing college exists while admitting that the girls of the village had raised the issue of traditional thinking and shortage of sanitary pads, for which action has been taken.
C P Joshi, the acting principal of Sail Government Intercollege, said that the parents told the officials that the girl students are not prevented from going to school. He also pointed out that while it may have been pervasive in the past, but at present, it does not exist. He also revealed that an alternative path has been created so that the temple doesn’t fall in the way.
In a study carried out by the Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS) in 2016, it was revealed that that eight of ten Indian girls are not allowed to enter religious shrines when they are on their period, six out of ten girls are not permitted to touch food in the kitchen and, three out of ten are forced to sleep in a separate room.
Vandana Singh, CDO of Pithoragarh, said that as per the findings of the inquiry team, a resolution was passed to punish anyone who prevented menstruating women from going to their school or college. She added by saying that she has ordered the concerned official to keep her updated on the issue which she is still keeping a watch and reviewing the situation personally.
Vijay Vardhan Upreti, a Pithoragarh-based journalist, said that superstition in the name of rituals has become undeclared religious rules under the pressure of orthodox religious thinking. He revealed that this issue is not only limited to Sail village but also in the entire Pancheshwar Valley, along with other remote hilly areas of the state.
Garima Mahara Dasauni, a retired teacher, said, “These types of deep-rooted rituals cannot be washed away, through the fear of law or the police, but it requires a total change of mindset. People should be made aware that periods are more connected to hygiene than to religion.”
She believes that it would take several workshops, talk shows, short documentaries and a direct conversation with the public to make the residents of Sail understand that at the time when the girls are venturing out to outer space, these kinds of old beliefs will prove to be hurdle for women and would lower their confidence level and deprive them of their fundamental right.
[The author is a Dehradun-based freelance writer and a member of 101Reporters]
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