The conversation began on September 5, the first day of Ganeshotsav, when Divya* wrote about her experience. She said she had just finished cooking, cleaning, decorating her home and preparing for the festival, when her period arrived.
When she told her mother-in-law about this, Divya was banned her from entering the kitchen and home, and asked to use an external staircase to access her room, where she would remain for the rest of the festival period. Divya was also asked to stand outside the door when she wished to to speak to her son, who is not even five.
Like every year, this Ganesheshotsav too newspapers have underlined the annual markers of changing times, such as eco-friendly Ganesh idols. But as a Facebook group dedicated to eco-friendly menstrual management discovered, the obstacles Indian women face during festival season remain the same.
Divya’s description of her experience was met with much outrage on the Facebook group, a collection of roughly 10,000 women who advise new converts on menstrual management using menstrual cups and eco-friendly pads.
Menstrual taboos are common among many orthodox Hindu families. In some homes, menstruating women are required to refrain from domestic work and physical intimacy. And in particularly conservative homes, women live in a separate room during their period, eat from separate plates, and do not enter kitchens or any 'sacred' part of the house.
In the past, rules like these have been used to ban menstruating women from entering temples or celebrating festivals.
Anger at Divya’s experience elicited pleas for active intervention, which was a first for the Facebook group. Normally, it shares links on period taboos and menstrual health.
Replies began to pour in, as women discussed Divya’s options in real time. Most members of the group were divided in their response to her primary question – should she lie to her mother-in-law in the future to avoid similar situations?
Several members advised Divya to go ahead and lie – her body was her own business, they reasoned, and she did not have to tell anyone whether or not she was on her period. Some even told her to look at being thrown out of the kitchen as an opportunity to relax, without the burden of housework.
Others felt lying was unwise. Divya’s mother-in-law or husband would be sure to find out that she had lied, and that would turn the situation worse.
Perhaps, some argued, it was best for Divya to simply confront her mother-in-law, or walk into the kitchen in open defiance.
Soon after, Divya wrote that she had discussed the matter with her husband. Until they were living under his parents’ roof, he said, Divya would have to comply with his mother’s wishes.
Divya said the conversation rapidly turned into a screaming match. The matter was finally resolved when Divya’s son stepped in, asking his father to apologise.
After this, Divya wrote, she retired to her room, and ordered pizza for dinner.
Defenders of menstrual taboos have often argued that keeping menstruating women out of homes, kitchens and temples is a way to allow them to rest. But, as others point out, this disregards women’s choice about whether or not they would like to work, making the practice oppressive.
Long after Divya had retired for the night after her pizza dinner, users on the Facebook group continued to discuss the unfairness of considering menstrual blood impure.
One of the most reassuring stories came from a user who told a similar tale about being banned from a Durga puja pandal when she was menstruating as a young woman:
* The user's name has been changed to protect her identity.