Shame, poverty, myths: A tale of Kashmir’s tribal cloth used by menstruating women

Women belonging to the Gujjar-Bakarwal community in Jammu and Kashmir are forced to use worn-out garments during periods. Illustration: Manikandan R

In the sprawling fields of Kapran, a postcard hamlet on the foothills of Himalayas in South Kashmir’s Anantnag district, Mehjabeen, member of the Gujjar-Bakarwal tribe, enters a hut, looking from the corners of her eyes if someone is watching her, to hide what she calls “shame”.

As a springtime routine, this young 20-year-old has arrived to help her husband and other family members in the field. A mother of two, Mehjabeen can’t focus on farm work and visits the hut on the pretext of having water. But within the four makeshift walls of the hut and away from family gaze, Mehjabeen hurriedly changes the cloth which is by now soaked in period blood. She puts the used cloth in a plastic bag and heaves a partial sigh of relief because though the cloth has been taken care of the pain is searing through the body.

On the third day of her menstrual cycle, despite the pain and the acute discomfort, Mehjabeen finds it difficult to muster the ‘courage’ and shed the ‘shame’ to inform family elders about her unwillingness to work in the field because of her monthly cycles
“It’s shameful to talk about menstrual cycles with elders,” she tells The Federal. “My husband knows that I’m unwell. But what can he do? Women don’t talk about their monthly cycles to anyone.”

Mehjabeen’s periods go on for five to six days. During the days of bleeding, she uses a piece of cloth, which she changes every four to five hours. After her cycles are over, she washes these cloth pieces in a plastic tub, and hangs them on a pile of wooden logs for drying to re-use them for the next cycle.

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