1. Why did you become a photographer?
Kashmir is a place where we have so many stories hidden in each and every corner. Every person has a story to tell and most of the times people find it hard to open up and share their stories, I took up photography to get these unheard stories out of Kashmir and show the world the Kashmir that has remained like a mystery to them. Photography is a powerful medium to tell stories, each and every photograph has a story behind it and when I photograph people, I make sure I talk to them and listen to them and when I share their stories, I make sure I put it out in such a way that the one who sees the picture or reads the story associated with it feels connected to the subject. Basically understands the emotions in the photograph.
2. What took you back to Kashmir? What is it about Kashmir that compels you to tell stories from there?
I left Kashmir for further studies after I finished my schooling. Although I did not want to leave but circumstances were such that I had to. I stayed away from Kashmir for almost 6 years and I was working in London when I decided to quit and return to Kashmir. Even when I was away, Kashmir always kept calling me back, it is the attachment to the place that eventually made me return. I think every Kashmiri has a strong emotional connection with Kashmir but things unfortunately are such in Kashmir that most of the educated people leave Kashmir. When I was away, the thought that Kashmir is misrepresented on various forums, mostly the media, it felt unfair. Kashmir is much more than that, it felt like a responsibility to return and do something for Kashmir which is right and which is fair. Like I said there are so many stories hidden in Kashmir and I wanted to bring them out, I wanted people to listen to the realities of Kashmir and not pay heed to lies and propoganda. I wanted people to understand Kashmir, know Kashmir like we Kashmiris know it.
3. If you had to describe childhood in Kashmir to someone in one sentence, what would you say?
I was born in the 90’s, the violence was at its peak when I was growing up. I have the memories of crackdowns, encounters, search operations, curfews, all sorts of negativity and that led me and other children around me live a very scary childhood. Of course there were times when we would play cricket, do all the fun things but the conflict had such an impact on our childhood that nothing seemed normal. Childhood for me was a phase full of incidents that I wish never happened. What I experienced as a child, I wish no child ever experiences that because what the incidents that occur in your childhood haunt you forever in life.
4. How has childhood changed in Kashmir ever since you were a child? Please illustrate.
To be honest, nothing much has changed. The conflict is going on, the childhood remains the same, curfews, encounters, shut downs, restrictions. The only difference I feel is that now children have gotten used to it and they have accepted the conflict as a part of their life and they see these things normal now. Which is unfortunate, scary and sad.
“Aqib! Catch catch catch!” Umar screamed. Aqib suddenly ran and carefully caught the ball. “We won!” they both gave each other a high-five and exchanged big happy grins. Umar is a 2nd grader at Hanfia School in Kareeri Pattan. It is small village situated in the district of Baramulla. When I met him and his best friend Aqib, I saw friendship blooming in a beautiful, warm way and what connected them to each other the most was – the game of cricket. Umar is a 2nd grade student at Hanfia School in Kareeri, Pattan. His father runs a small business and manages to send him to a good private school in the area. Good education has played a major role in shaping the dream Umar aspires to fulfil. On being asked, he said he would like to be a doctor when he grows up, and that he wants to help all the people who are in need of good treatment and help. Of a shy nature and a heart full of determination, little Umar aspires to give his best to the society by becoming a doctor. At such a young age, when good education is provided to such ambitious children – they surely tend to do wonders later in life. Umar lives with his parents and after returning home from school every day – he completes his homework and spends the evening playing cricket. His parents have maintained a good balance in his life, between studies and sports. It is good to see the parents in Kashmir, encouraging their children to do well in every sphere of life. Coming from a land of an on-going conflict, the families have still not forgotten how to induce encouragement in lives of their children, in spite of the turbulence which is present over the valley.
Tanzeel spread out his little arms and pretended to fly around when I asked him what he wanted to be when he grew up. “Pilot! I want to become a pilot,” he said with a grin on his face. Tanzeel is a student of 1st standard at the Government Primary School in Mujpathri, a small hamlet in the district of Budgam. It is a co-education system which facilitates education from 1st to 5th standard and has a total strength of 70 students. Bilal Ahmed is the only teacher who manages all 70 students. He revealed that few of the students come to school only because they get free meals to eat during the school hours – such is their financial condition. Tanzeel has an elder brother who studies in the 6th standard and 3 sisters who do not and could not go to school because they belong to a poor household. His father works in the farms to sustain the livelihood of the family, while his mother is a homemaker. When asked what he liked to do in free time, he said he loved playing with his friends. He pointed his finger towards another boy standing at a distance and said, “He is Rizwan! He is my best friend and I love to play with him the most.” “What do you like to play?” I asked. “Kho- Kho and football,” Tanzeel said in excitement and exchanged a mischievous smile with Rizwan. “But I don’t like it when I couldn’t get to see him because my mother doesn’t let me step out of the house during curfews. The school shuts down then and I don’t meet him for days. I don’t like to play football without him,” Tanzeel added. These are the children of conflict, I thought to myself. The same little boy who dreams to be a pilot someday has a childhood revolving around sudden shutdowns, violence and curfews.
“We couldn’t save him. The doctors tried their best but I think he had to go. I did casual jobs in the households around to gather money for my husband’s treatment, we sold all that we owned but in spite of all the efforts he passed away,” Tasleema said while wiping away her tears. Tasleema has 3 children, one of them is Mehak. She is a 2nd grader who studies at the Government Middle school in Lalpora. She wakes up at 7 in the morning and goes to school at 9. She is very studious and according to her teacher she is one of the most active students in class. Tasleema said that girls in their area aren’t encouraged much to continue their studies after the 7th or 8th standard. Most of the girls drop out of school and start doing household work. When they reach a certain age, they are married off. But Tasleema is determined to provide her children with the best education she can manage. She has taken in two of Mehak’s cousins who lost both their parents and treats them like her own children. She further says that Mehak is very smart and ambitious and that she has so many dreams which she wants to fulfil. Mehak loves to play with her friends and spends her time after school to do homework and help her mother in household chores. In spite of all the hardships, love is what binds them together. Kashmir and its childhood has been damaged over the years but Kashmiris still manage to sustain because of the hope they carry in their hearts. Children like Mehak are capable of achieving great heights in life. With so little, they still build big dreams.
“I love to study about stars and planets. I am also able to form full sentences in English now,” little Bisma exclaimed with a shy smile. Her spontaneity and curiosity revealed how much she loved to read and write. She wakes up at 5 in the morning, does her morning prayers, gets ready and goes to school at 9. English being her favourite subject has made her fall in love with story books for children. She is a 4th grader at the Government Middle school in Lalpora. Lalpora is a village located close to the LoC in the Lolab area of Kupwara district. Coming from a locality where education for girls is being frowned upon, it is Bisma’s mother, Mubeena, who always encourages her to go to school. Bisma has one younger brother and three younger sisters. They all live in a one room house which is very old and shaby, and has no flooring. When Mubeena’s husband passed away, the entire responsibility came upon her shoulders. Being an illiterate, Mubeena realized the importance of education and left no stones unturned to get her children enrolled in school, as she didn’t want her children to face poverty when they grew up. “When I get free from studies, I help my mother in washing utensils and cleaning the house. I don’t like it when she has to do so much work all alone, so I always help her,” Bisma said.
“Sometimes when my children have gone to school, the only thing I fear for is their safety. I get anxious and start praying for their safe return to the house,” Mubeena sighed. She further said that the area they live in comes under high militancy alert and is quite close to the LOC. Bisma is one of those students who comes to school with a pursuit – to learn more and more everyday. Even though there are so many factors pulling her down, Bisma remains ambitious and determined to make her dreams come true.
On the outskirts of Srinagar, there lies a government primary school in Dardkhover with a total strength of 47 students. Mr. Bilal is one of the two teachers who manage the students altogether. One such student is Affan Shafi who belongs to Dhara village of Harwan. He is a Kindergarten student and has a baby brother who is less than a year old. His father works as a labourer to make ends meet and to provide Affan with good education. Affan is very shy and reserved. He kept blushing and smiling for every question. But he did answer profoundly when I asked him what he wanted to be. He looked up with his dreamy eyes and said,”Doctor!” – and then with that blush on his cheeks, he looked away shyly. Affan’s mother is worried about his weak eyesight. She said that his eyesight has been weak since birth and that has created many problems for him while growing up. She hopes that his eye condition doesn’t get worse than this. Little Affan likes to study and complete his homework when he gets back home. His school is situated among the peaceful Zabarwan mountains of Kashmir, which has lent a calm environment to the school. It is an irony though, how serene and peaceful these village areas look, yet there is so much turmoil and pain in the air. Little children like Affan, when get exposed to such unpredictable situations, not only does their routine life gets affected, but their battle with emotional imbalance starts then and there.
Child protection committees (CPC) are informal citizen’s group located at the level of communities, which work for the safety and protection of children. The members include parents, teachers, child and youth representatives, community level duty bearers, and PRI/urban equivalent members. These CPC work alongside the child protection system, supporting families, providing linkages to the formal protection services and mechanisms, facilitate discussions in the community on complex issues, serve as pressure groups in creating demands and measures for keeping children safe.
In the aftermath of the recent spate of violence against children in schools, parents and the government are discussing solutions to children’s safety. Leher brings you an example of how efforts involving collaboration, dialogue, and contribution of time between the CPC and school administration, brought success as resolving issues around keeping children safe at school. These stories are told from our field pilot project in the district of Madhubani, in Bihar which works in 36 villages.
From blame game to monthly ‘nigrani’ visits to school.
At the time that CPC began their work, they identified a lot of problems in an around schools. Parents alleged corruption—administration the Mid-day meal scheme, scholarships; run down infrastructure, teacher absenteeism, inadequate supply of education/play materials. Corporal punishment was acceptable and widely practiced. Teachers pointed out negligence and disinterest on the part of parents with regards to children’s education, alleging that parents were only interested the material and financial benefits received through the school.
These issues were discussed over and over. Finally, it was decided that every village CPC would undertake to prepare a report-card of each school. It enabled them systematically identify problems related to the schools in their respective villages. After going through this process of preparing the school safety report card came much reluctance and hesitation. Nobody felt they had the time. Parents were very busy with their household chores, and agricultural work. “If the Anganwadi didi and teacher receive salaries for doing their work, why should we parents be doing this for free?”, some parents questioned.
They decided to try. Here is what they found:
- The trust between the school and parents grew.
- Parents began to understand the limitations, and practical problems that school staff face
- Teachers and parents both became less negligent. As parents began to get involved with school, teachers and principals delivered better.
- The corruption around administration of Mid-day meals, and scholarship money gradually faded away.
- Parents began to realize the value of education.
- Parents were proud of what they were able to achieve as part of the CPC. The demand for financial compensation disappeared.
- They learned that if they were able to give some of their time, willing to dialogue, and get organized, they could achieve a lot.
Here are some testimonies to the collaborative approach:
“The girl’s group in our village complained to the CPC, that one of their friends had stopped coming to school, as the route to school was not safe, and there were men/boys who would sexually harass girls. The CPC got together and discussed with the community members on how to ensure the safety of girls without compromising their school attendance and education. It was decided that parents will take turns to accompany children to school and back.”—CPC member
“In one of the monthly visits in a village, the school visit committee observed a low hanging bare electric wire which the children could easily reach to, from the terrace of the school building. The CPC flagged it to the head master during school visit and took it up at the CPC meeting. The school authorities acted and got the wire insulated.”-Student from a village school.
“A ‘dabang’ (notorious) person from our village, decided that he would squat over the school play-ground, treating it as his personal property. He used it to store some construction material. Due to this the children were not able to make use of the playground. The school authorities were scared to take this up with the person in question. This was raised with the CPC during the monthly school visit. The CPC decided to take it up. The CPC approached the person and asked him to clear his materials from the playground. He refused many times. It took multiple meetings, and and the involvement of the community to finally get the man to agree to move out his materials from the pay ground.” –Community member
CPC now undertake a routine visit once a month to the village school. The schools-teachers, students, and management, look forward to it and it has become a forum to share, support and work in partnership. More and more parents are becoming aware about the CPC and the work it undertakes in schools, and it has raised the profile of the issue of safety of children in the community as a whole. Children also bring problems they face to the CPC directly.
As conversations around school safety in cities veer towards blame games, and aspects of policing—CCTV and electronic chipped tag, let us remember that these quick fixes don’t really solve the problem. What we need is for attitudes to change. For schools and parents to own the problem together. A lot can be achieved through working collaboratively, getting organized, and through dialogue towards keeping children safe, in school, at home, and in the community.
Sport and play are immediately and intimately tied to the notion of childhood. Children are naturally drawn to sport and play; these activities engage all children, even the poorest and most marginalised, to have fun and enjoy their childhood. Through play, children explore, invent and create. It is not just an end in itself; it has the potential to prevent disease, increase school attendance, improve learning levels, foster gender equity, enhance inclusion of persons with disabilities, and build skills that promote an overall social and economic development. Follow our campaign #PlayMatters for more.
On our recent field visit to Madhubani, we were witness to the above spirit unfolding into reality before us. The playground has the ability to transcend barriers of caste, class, and even the rigidly prescribed structures of gender. Bishanpur is a small village in the block of Pandaul in Madhubani. Our teams have been working with the children and the adults of the village as a part of the programme Leher runs in thirty-six villages across Madhubani. When we set out to the field in the morning, we were excited to meet and interact with the children. Little did we know that the day would pan out in a much more exciting manner than we anticipated.
The session with the children’s group was on gender stereotyping. It was for the first time that both the boys’ group and the girls’ group had come together to participate in the session. It did not take more than a few minutes for the children to cast off their inhibitions and engage animatedly with questions around gender stereotyping. “What are the differences in social expectations from a girl and a boy?” was the basic question the discussion was premised on. While we received many fascinating responses, one consistent response we received from both the boys and the girls was that girls are usually kept away from outdoor or ‘boyish’ sports. On being asked what their favourite outdoor sport was, we received an almost unanimous answer from the children – “volleyball!” And so it was decided that the next day a volleyball match would be held at the village playground – girls versus boys.
The match started at around 4:00 p.m. and was quite a close competition between the boys and the girls, with the boys winning, but not by a significant margin. While the match started with only the player teams, with the Leher team as spectators, as the evening progressed, the field started filling up with the other children and parents from the village. By the end of the match however, while for the children it was about a winning team and a losing team, for the rest of us witnessing the match, it was a testament to the fact that the times, they are changing. This tiny, and supposedly insignificant village on the map is taking its slow, but steady strides towards progress. The girls had come out to not just play an outdoor sport, but play it with boys (technically, against the boys). The playground had been successful in dissolving the stereotypes that ‘girls shouldn’t play the same sports that boys play’ and that ‘it was wrong for boys and girls to be seen together.’
Play matters, because it is the one thing that underlines the meaning of childhood anywhere in the world, be it in this tiny village in Madhubani, in a posh locality in New Delhi, or in suburban New York. It is the playground which brings children together and grants them the space and freedom to be what they should be – children, and to live the journey each child is entitled to – childhood. In the context of the story above, the playground functioned as a solvent for gender barriers. The match was an irreversible development towards making the playground a more accessible and inclusive space. The girls have as much of a right to it as the boys – this fact was established in a subtle, yet firm manner. While it is extremely unfortunate that even play and sports is gendered, these small, nonetheless significant milestones, need to be created, recognised and celebrated.
As the sun set, pouring its golden hues over the playground, beads of sweat glistening on the children’s foreheads, it was time to go back home. While the boys were jubilant over their victory, the girls were graceful in accepting the fair (but so close – 14-12!) defeat. One could hear them conversing about how they could have played better, and plotting their strategy for the next match. We couldn’t have been more proud, though, because we knew that both teams were winners.
Watch the match here!
A 7 year old boy was murdered in the washroom of his school, after an attempt of sexual assault on him by a school bus conductor. There is an accompanying shock, disbelief and anger that this could happen to a child in school. My heart goes out to the parents of the little boy. Every adult should hang their head in shame, for being part of a society which has become complicit to all types of violence against children, by not speaking up enough, at the right time, and not demanding measures for their safety.
Angry parents have been protesting for justice without delay, and for the school to be particularly held accountable. The Police, School, Education minister, and CBSE have swung into swift action. The Education Minister has further promised to set this case as an example to send out a warning to schools and the people. Amidst the grief and shock of this tragic incident, there are some urgent questions that we all must ask ourselves– Are our children safe in schools? What can we do to ensure their safety and prevent incidents of violence against children in schools?
Let us look at a few cases of violence reported in schools in just the last one week itself. On 1st September, there was an incident of corporal punishment by a teacher in a school in Lucknow, where the teacher slapped a 3rd standard child 40 times, for failing to respond to roll call. On 8th September, a video of a 10th standard boy, studying in a school in Noida, being slapped by his classmate went viral on social media. What is equally disturbing is that the video of the whole incident was being recorded by other children to be uploaded on a popular social media platform. A school peon was arrested for raping a class 1 student in a school in Delhi on 9th September. There is a case of violence against children in school coming to light almost every day now.
These cases are indicative that schools can no longer be assumed as safe spaces for children. There is a need for schools to take responsibility and emphasize on protection of children as much as development and learning. Before parents raise concern about the academic performance of their children in school, they should demand to know if their children are safe in schools.
How can parents get involved?
There’s a lot that parents can do, with the school to ensure that their children feel safe in school.
- Find out about the school management committee in your child’s school, as mandated by Right to Education Act 2009. Demand that it is constituted, active and start working with schools to make it a safe and secure place. Among the many roles of the SMC, ensuring the rights of children and monitoring incidents of mental and physical harassment, is an important function that the committee should undertake.
- National Commission for Protection of Child Rights has issued guidelines on eliminating corporal punishment in schools which talks about constituting a corporal punishment monitoring cell under SMC. There is a need to expand the scope of the cell to include the mandate of protection of children from all forms of violence.
- In schools which are exempted from constituting SMC, actively participate in parent teacher association/parent teacher meeting. PTA/PTM is an effective platform for raising questions, discussions and creating accountability. Demand that safety of children in school should constitute an important agenda of PTA/PTM.
- Share your concerns with other parents in your child’s school. Form class parent’s WhatsApp groups/e-groups. Flag issues that are bothering you, discuss, gather information, collectivize, ask questions to the school authorities, demand answers from them, and suggest ways to work together. Let the school know that you are serious about the safety of your children.
- Most importantly, talk, and listen to your children. Be interested and be there for them. Encourage children to share about their day, and report any problem that they might be facing in school or outside from any person.
What can schools do to ensure the safety of children from violence?
The school management is a safety provider and they cannot shirk away from this important duty. Every school should create avenues to positively engage parents and children to show their committment towards ensuring the safety of children.
- Every school should formulate a child protection policy, which should clearly specify the code of conduct for dealing with children for every staff. The CPP should lay out reporting mechanisms for any violation, and mandate a course of action within a specific timeline. Schools should ensure that every staff has received training on CPP and child protection.
- Empower children; build their life-skills to help themselves and other children. Schools should encourage formation of children’s club/groups, and ensure linkages between SMC and children’s group to create transparency and accountability.
- Children should be informed of their rights and responsibilities. Every child should be able to recognize when his/her rights are being violated, and whom to report to in such an instance.
- Make children aware of 1098. Install a complaint/suggestion box, and ensure that it is easily accessible to all children in school.
- Take responsibility to raise children who are sensitive to other children and believe in a culture of peace, and co-existence. Introduce, and promote the practice of restorative circles in classrooms. Use the technique to encourage peaceful means of dialogue between peers to address differences rather than resorting to aggression and violence.
- Conduct regular social audits. Child protection risk analysis should form as an integral part of the audit.
Dear parents and schools, it is time to get involved and act together to ensure the safety and protection of children in schools!
The matter of #RyanInternationaschool is telling… telling of how unperturbed and unaffected we have been with a violent world for children, where the darkness of abuse, rape and murder makes it way into a space meant to be quite the opposite. If children are murdered and raped in school…Where really are they safe? Why are parents across the country not questioning the efficacy of SMC’s? Why are schools defending the brutal death of their students? And why is the Government still slashing budgets for the protection of children?
The death of 7 year old Pradyushan created public outrage and dissent, but failed to listen and provide solutions to parents across the country, worried to send their school to children the next day.
Here’s what twitter had to ask and say that #RyanMustAnswer:
Schools, supposedly called temples of knowledge, are certainly turning into an abode for abuse and murders! #RyanInternationalSchool
— Samridhi Bhandari (@Samridhi001) September 10, 2017
— Anil Budhraja (@anilbudhraja) September 8, 2017
#RyanInternationalSchool The school just indulge in making money but does nothing towards protection of kids.
— Itisme (@prankster_me) September 8, 2017
How a school becomes protective, when a student got killed inside. None of the teachers condemned this…shameful..#RyanInternationalSchool
— ritendra singh (@singh_ritendra) September 8, 2017
— Vaishali Batra (@Vaishalibatra09) September 8, 2017
This case is extremely horrifying n upsetting. Are we really sending our kids to a safe environment ! #RyanInternationalSchool
— Sakshi Joshi (@sakshijoshii) September 8, 2017
— Gita S. Kapoor (@GitaSKapoor) September 9, 2017
Murder in #RyanInternationalSchool tells Schools managements are curious for Fee Hike but No attention towards Security & Safety of Students
— Anshul Saxena (@AskAnshul) September 9, 2017
#RyanInternationalSchool Don't wait for another murder by a paedophile, time to inspect NCR schools &confidentially seek info from students
— Fearless Indian (@FearlessIndian1) September 10, 2017
— Praveen K Prabhakar (@praveen_lala) September 10, 2017
What happened yesterday at #RyanInternationalSchool makes my heart bleed. Barbaric, tragic, disturbing. Times we live in 🙁
— Ragini Khanna (@iraginikhanna) September 10, 2017
The moment when you think that the man has reached the peak of monstrosity– another master level monster arises.#RyanInternationalSchool
— Jaya Singh (@Jazz_agre) September 9, 2017
This is shocking, absolutely devastated by this #RyanInternationalSchool incident, a school can't ensure basic safety to a kid? SHAME
— Ankie Shekhawat (@Ankieshekhawat) September 10, 2017
Across South Asia, 1.8 million children were out of school, 18,000 schools shut down across the region and millions were forced out of their homes due to heavy rainfall and subsequent floods in the region. While the #Mumbairains made headlines, and the CM declared schools to be closed the following day, life didn’t just come to a standstill in the financial capital of India. 15 days ago, Assam was known to have been hit with the worst flood in 29 years, affecting over 15 lakh people within 24 hours…many of whom were children. Here’s what #climatechange, torrential rains and the recurring overflow of the Brahmaputra does to the lives of children in Assam and across the North East of India.
Children search their belongings in their house in the flood affected Morigaon district. (Photo- EPA/STR)
Two boys crossing a flooded street on a raft made of banana tree trunk in Guwahti (Photo- PTI)
A boy dries clothes outside his house, partially submerged in flood waters at Burgaon, 80 kilometres east of Guwahati in Assam. (Photo- AP)
A medical official distributes medicine to children in the flood-affected Sagolikota, Morigaon (Photo- AFP)
A child having his meal on a boat at a flood affected village in Morigaon (Photo- New Indian Express)
Children shelter under an umbrella during rain as they sit on sacks filled with recyclable material at a garbage dumping site in Guwahati (Photo by Anuwar Hazarika/Reuters)
A child sits in a boat as another stands near their house partially submerged in flood waters in Burgaon, east of Guwahati that have triggered floods and landslides causing several deaths in the region (Photo- AP/Anupam Nath)
Children cross flood waters on a homemade raft in Morigaon district (Photo- EPA/STR)
School girls make it through a flooded street after heavy rains in Guwahati (Photo- PTI)
Children row a boat in Morigaon, Assam after their village submerged. (Photo-Anuwar Hazarika/Reuters)
From Ganesh Chaturthi, Janmashtami, Parsi new year, Paryushan, Eid to Raksha Bandhan, the month of August brings to life the religious and cultural diversity of India. We see almost everyday, children in and around temples and churches, agiyaris and mosques…Sometimes dressed up for early morning prayers, selling flowers to devotees passing by, other times dressed as gods begging for alms, participating enthusiastically in religious activity or simply obeying conventional demands of a faith, passed down. While religious freedom is a fundamental right in India, the relationship between children and religion is nuanced and convoluted.
Here’s Riccardo Melzi’s visual narration of children in diverse and distinct religious settings across the country, illustrating his passion and love for photography in the culturally colourful land of India. From Nandgaon, Vrindavan, Barsana to Varanasi, Riccardo was drawn to the pivot of religious grandeur accompanied by his camera.
You are watching television and suddenly the screen turns white and fluffy. A young woman also dressed in white tells you in a saccharine sweet voice how to take care of yourself during ‘those days’. Aah! Those days. How we women and girls love those days! The cramps, the back aches, the bloating, in some cases not being allowed the privilege of sleeping on a mattress or entering the kitchen; not to mention the days before ‘those days’ where the slightest emotional reaction is met with a hushed question “Are you PMSing?”. But what we, the ones with the uterus, love most about ‘those days’ is the sheer unpredictability of it all. It’s a flighty and fanciful creature and can appear as an offensive red blot when you least expect it.
Unfortunately for a little 12-year old girl in Tamil Nadu this took a serious turn when she was humiliated and attacked by a teacher (a woman) for staining her uniform. She was insulted in front of the whole class and taken to the Principal which resulted in the girl feeling so ashamed she committed suicide. I must ask this teacher, this stellar example of the Indian Education System, “How do you sleep at night? You have the death of a little girl on your conscience. Can you live with yourself?” In this day and age when women in other parts of the world have run marathons during their periods not allowing the stains to stop them, here a girl is dead.
I empathise with the grief of her parents but I still have a question for them and along with them, parents of girls everywhere “Why do you raise your daughters with such an acute sense of shame?” Menstruation is as natural a process as urination and defecation, yet it is fine for men to pee in public but if a stain of ‘those days’ happens to seep on to my clothes it is a crime so unforgivable that I have to bury my head in shame. We associate menstrual staining with the weight of shame, of inadequacy, with the label of not being able to care for oneself and above all a sense of blame. It’s your fault you are a girl. Keep your body hidden. Your bodily functions are a burden that you must not call attention to. Hide your discomfort through black clothes, medication and a continuous dread of the offensive red blot. Hide your fatigue and your emotions because it’s not a real thing. It’s ‘just hormones’.
There are cultures where the first period is celebrated. It marks the beginning of the fertile period of the girl’s life. I have attended these celebrations where the girl in question whose fertility was being celebrated sat in a different room not being allowed to sit with the rest of us or eat with the rest of us. She did get a pair of gold earrings though. I think this is where she learnt her lesson that when she is unhappy with patriarchy, jewellery is the standard answer.
I urge each one of you, if you cannot help at least do not shame. Stop Period Shaming. Stop expecting women to be apologetic for who they are. I must end with a quote by American poet and feminist Judy Grahn “Menstrual blood is the only source of blood not traumatically induced. Yet in modern society, this is the most hidden blood, one most rarely spoken of.”