The Powerpuff Girls

On January 21, just as the sunlight was starting to achieve a diffused effect in the evening sky, the people of Bhim Nagar checked all chores off their lists, hurriedly making their way to the Buddh Vihar (community centre). Perched atop a hillock, the Buddh Vihar in Bhoiwada’s Bhim Nagar is a modestly sized room, its walls adorned by portraits of Savitribai Phule and Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar.

Slowly the centre started to fill up, one-half of the room eagerly occupied by mothers with infants on their hips, a few women with wallets and handkerchiefs clutched in their hands, and a handful men. The other half was hijacked by girls – a group of sprightly 11-21-year-olds, as they shuffled chaotically, the older bunch instructing the younger ones, trying to duck the microphone suspended from the roof.

Finally, the proverbial curtains were drawn open. The younger lot among the group, 11-14-year-olds, stood facing the audience, its numbers now increasing as people teemed outside, some standing on their toes, trying to catch a glimpse of the scene inside. It seemed unusual to see so many people jostling each other to participate in the celebrations of 16 girls who had completed the Journey Towards Dignity programme and were about to talk about education as their right, sexual health, and abuse.

Taking turns, the girls shared their learning, their presentation dominated by the sheer excitement on their faces and the josh in their voices. It was an unspoken declaration, it screamed “Yes, we know about menstruation, child sexual abuse, and good dietary practices!” as they performed their acts focussing on these topics.

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The girls make a point through their skit

When the older batch aged 15-21 came on, a certain seriousness filled the air; the applause died down. Two girls delivered emotionally charged monologues – one spoke about experiencing abuse perpetrated by her own uncle, the other about dealing with the first day of her period. A play became the device through which the audience witnessed the tragedies of a grandmother whose flashbacks showed gender-biases in their full glory, affecting every aspect of her life.

The rawness and power of each performance made it evident that the girls were drawing from a pool of shared grief, a pool made up of all the injustices that they had experienced in their own lives, of the punishments meted out to them for being born as the ‘the weaker sex’ while they exposed the weaknesses of the society.

That evening, the limitations of the centre’s space became a boon as there was no escape for emotions, of sentiments that are usually buried under layers of austerity. Her voice shaky with emotion, the mother of one of the girls said, “I did not have faith in my daughter to speak the way she did today, I am so proud of her, she has shown a lot of courage”. As other parents nodded in agreement, the girls grinned, knowing that they had seized the day. A small victory signalling the bigger wins that awaited them.

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One of the girls receives a certificate of completion from her parents

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The period problem: will you whisper or stay free?

दीदी, आपने लास्ट सेशन में मासिक पाली के बारे में बताया, और सेशन के दुसरे ही दिन मुझे मासिक पाली आई, सेशन के वजह से मुझे कोई दिक्कत नहीं आई

Neha (Name changed to protect privacy)

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Blood. Sweat. Tears. That’s how it starts, doesn’t it? It’s a dangerous loop – don’t talk about it, let the myths prevail, panic when you finally see red, perceive it to be some sort of cancer when in reality, fear is the cancer coursing through your veins, approach the shopkeeper with caution – ask for a newspaper or black bag to hide the contents that once seen could destroy the world and every time you need to reload your ammo, make your way to the nearest change station so discreetly, that it would put Houdini to shame.

13-year old Neha’s story has a different beginning. In an environment that requires an orchestration around a natural process, Neha’s confidence exudes through a simple statement of how she handled her first period. It is noteworthy in the Indian context where lack of sufficient knowledge and myths leave young girls and their parents unprepared to deal with menstruation and create a culture where the language used to discuss it is highly encrypted.

Sadly, millions of Nehas still navigate their way through each period playing a game of charades – using gestures to let their friends and female relatives know it’s THAT time of the month, quietly signalling them to check if they have stained their clothes. The culture of silence is an invisible monster – it speaks through legends and myths, passed down from one generation to another, paralysing young girls and women every month for 4-5 days. The kitchen, jars of pickles, places of worship and male members of the family often become off limits as menstruation continues to be considered bad and impure.

This ostracisation is humiliating, degrading and more painful than the physical pain endured during menstruation and often saps them of their sense of dignity. Through its program, Journey Towards Dignity, PUKAR prepares adolescent girls like Neha to take the first step towards empowerment and well-being by engaging them in discussions on sexual and reproductive health, gender, and violence.

The program has helped Neha break the cycle and confront her fears. Her statement is a happy declaration of the newfound understanding of her body – of menstruation as a biological process, free of guilt or misconceptions. With this victory, Neha now holds the key to bust the myths and change the attitudes around menstruation of the innumerable people in her life.