Menstruation Taboo among Hindu Community in Bhutan

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“In some place, a woman cannot be in their own homes during their period, in others women can be in the house, but not in the kitchen and worship room. They are also forbidden from touching other people (especially male member of the family or neighbours) or cattle and from growing fruits and vegetables. Women become untouchable”.

Being male I don’t understand the pain and societal pressure every woman goes through during their periods. However, I feel it is the duty of both men and women to talk about such issues that a very much prevalent in our society. As a son, I feel it is my right to talk for my mother where she has been the victim of such superstitious belief. Someday I may have a daughter and I don’t want her to go through what my mother and sisters had gone through once. However, two thoughts play hide and seek in my mind as I try to talk about menstrual taboos. One, that I should make young girls understand that these restrictions are not because they become impure or polluted during menstruation. Two, that I should never, ever, hurt their religious or cultural sentiments because I have neither the knowledge nor the right to make that judgment.

A child is considered a “Bundle of joy” and “A gift from the divine” but the production process and the pain that women have to undergo years for this valuable gift are sin- this refers to menstruation and its associated untouchability. I was born in southern Bhutanese family (Lhotshampa) and from the small age, we have strict norms and cultural beliefs to be followed. One such norm that each girl are aware of is, dos and don’ts they have to follow during the menstruation time. During the girl’s first menstruation she is not allowed to go out of her room because if any male member of the family sees her, it is considered bad luck. In some extreme cases, girls are kept away from her own home, where she is made to live in relatives or neighbours house.

That red blood is considered as a sin, the same blood that represents her as a woman. It is nerve-wracking to see, how women are treated worse than an animal when natural, biological process knocked on the door for the very first time. In that stage, the girl needs the support, love and care from all of her family, the process of a little girl turning into a woman is something special but if family member ignores and humiliate her by not allowing to see her own father and brothers, how can she trust that womanhood is a beautiful stage. I was beyond happy when my little sister had her first period in a hostel. I would have never forgiven myself if I had to treat her like how my religion (Hindu) does to every daughter during their first period. After all, no girl in the world deserves to go through those feelings of insecurity and loneliness as she enters her womanhood.

It is high time to do everything possible to break the taboo that does nothing but develop inferiority complex in young girls. Firstly, Society should stop using religion as an excuse to continue the tradition. In fact, it is not even about religion; it’s mere superstition. In modern society, menstruation should be treated as a legal issue and women right issue.       Secondly, women themselves believe the tradition. They believe that such practice has been there for centuries and God will curse them if they don’t follow the rule of seclusion during periods. Girls and women continue the practice because they fear God will be angry with them and they will bring misfortune on the family. Our women should come out of such false belief, open up and fight for their right.

Lastly, Institutions that protect Women and girl child needs to take a new approach to this issue. In Bhutan, Hindu is a minor community, where less focus has been given to address such issue by institutions that protect women. I believe that this is not a cultural issue. It is not a part of religion but part of superstition. It is against women’s right. It is also a legal issue.

Over the years many families have stopped following this practice, especially in an urban area but it still prevails in rural communities. The worst part is these are handed down by women to women and the men folks hardly understand what happens during this phase. Now the time has come where such issue should be discussed in public, it is not anymore the private issue. Every woman should discuss it so that even male members of the family will understand the discrimination that women are facing. It is time to ensure a world where women are entitled to the right to live with dignity, respect and confidence.

 

 

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My Journey Through Depression

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It is raining outside; the long fall of rain hits the soft earth. The sound is soothing; like music, one can love to hear whole night. Crickets are chirping their usual song but tonight they seem to sing their happy song. It is late spring, the flowers have started to dry, birds started to leave their nest with new ones, leaves on the tree started to look mature and lonely paths already covered by long, wet grasses. Season changes, winter shows us it’s cold and dry nature, summer hot and wet, autumn full of bareness but most beautiful part is spring. The field filled with blooming wildflowers, birds of colours and tunes, every tree and plants dressed in their best suits likely to attend a party. Like season people changes, their life changes and with every change they write a paragraph of a new story in a novel of their life. Stories are as unique as the people who tell them, and the best stories are those in which story becomes a big part of them.

Like everyone I too have a story to tell: my journey through depression. Being depressed person doesn’t scare me but the thought of having to deal with the demon that lives inside me scares to death. A few years ago I was a normal person-as I like to say. I was having a perfect life like everybody, going to school, doing things that I love and trying to be a good student, friend and a son. However, I never imagined what my life has in store for me. Frequently people ask me what is it like to be in depression and my answer is, having multiple emotions: fear, despair, emptiness, numbness, shame, embarrassment and an inability to recognize the fun, happy person I used to be. The feeling doesn’t always stay same; sometimes it is like drowning, except I can see everyone around me breathing or it is like being locked in a room with no light, windows or door. It is so dark that I can’t even see my hands in front of my face.

I can still remember my first appointment with the doctor.  When I entered his chamber I was shivering and I was having a thousand reasons not to tell him about my problems. As I started to tell him everything that I was going through I could feel tears gathering at the corner of my eyes. He listened carefully and when I finished telling him everything, there was a long silence and he finally consoled me. He even prescribed antidepressants and I was told it could just be a chemical imbalance in my brain. I don’t remember much of what he told me but when I came out of his chamber I felt like I had unloaded thousand tons of loads from my shoulder.

Being a depressed person was hard for me, I lost interest in everything. I love writing and reading, it’s a fantastic escape for me, but during my low periods, I found myself unable to concentrate, just staring at the empty page with no clue where to start. I found it difficult to fall asleep and even if I sleep for short time I would wake up covered in sweat from the nightmare. I stopped caring about myself and my living conditions, at times I hated myself and felt I did not deserve to feel any better. During my worst episodes, I would think of ending everything, some night when I use to be alone in the room I use to see every possible way to hurt myself. Sometimes I use to go blank and when I regain my sense I use to be holding a knife in the hand or rope to commit suicide. At times this felt like a release, a way of feeling something real again, and of expressing my inner pain in a tangible, visible way.

Depression is something that we have to work through. I have learned that recovery isn’t something you choose once – you have to choose it over and over again.  Things that I find bad about being in depression is mainly the attitudes of people, who don’t understand depression and think it’s just a matter of “controlling oneself” or “stop worrying and cheer up”. I think there is still too much stigma attached to having a mental health problem, especially with something like depression because it is not an illness you can see, I think it is quite misunderstood. Now I understand that this sort of reaction is common, especially among Bhutanese society. Feelings and moods were not really discussed and any display of emotion was seen as a form of weakness. Such behaviour of our people makes it difficult for someone suffering from depression to come forward and talk about it.

I find spending too much time alone is not helpful, even though sometimes I don’t leave my room for few days and totally cut out from friends and social media, I usually feel better when I take a walk or when I spend my time with few people who I care more than anything. I have a great bunch of friends, people who easily understand me and my “quiet times”. I also have one friend with whom I can share everything. When I am having bad times it is easy to ask for help and encouragement to supports me in getting back on my feet when I am not feeling so good. Not just the society, sometimes an individual person who is suffering from depression finds it hard to accept the truth. We think it will get over some day and ignore to take care of ourselves, but the day we realize it should be taken care properly, by then it will completely consume us. My point is the greatest medicine to cure depression is acceptance. We should let go of things that we don’t deserve and accept the reality and be happy with what we have. Sometimes we tend to build dreams that are not easy to achieve and we end up hurting our expectation. Now I always make a point to set small and easily achievable goals and when I achieve it I feel happy and sense of worthiness. Finally, I feel controlling our self is an important key to recovery. I woke up one morning and looked in the mirror and looked at myself and said: “You don’t deserve this, this is not your life, there has to be something better”. And from that moment I vowed I will not be sick anymore. I put on my jacket and went for a walk. It was nice and refreshing and I told myself, “I can overcome this”.

It is easy to hide things from the world because under the smile we can bury a thousand pains. People don’t die from depression but they die from ignorance of society and people around them. It is time to uproot the stigma of depression as a disease of weak people and rather help them to face it. Let us not be the reason for someone’s death just because society considers depression as bad. It is also time for a depressed individual to come out from that small dark world we build around us and face the bright world where our loved ones will be happy to have us.