College girls made to strip to check if they are menstruating
The college which is run by the followers of Swaminarayan Mandir, has rules which do not allow menstruating girls to enter temples or kitchens, nor participate in community activities.
An appalling allegation has hit the news today. Reports have said that 68 students of Shree Sahajanand Girls Institute (SSGI) in Bhuj, Gujarat were forced to remove their undergarments and prove to teachers that they were not menstruating.
Here’s Some Background:
The college falls under Krantiguru Shyamji Krishna Verma Kutch University and is run by the followers of Swaminarayan Mandir. This sect has rules against allowing menstruating women from taking part in regular activities. They are not allowed to enter temples or kitchens, nor participate in community activities.
The college follows these rules stringently, and hostel inmates are not even allowed to interact with each other if one of them is menstruating. Interestingly, the institution’s mission reads “self-development and empowerment of girls through modern, scientific, and value-based education.”
Now here’s what happened today:
The head of the hostel complained to the principal that some of the students were refusing to be reclusive while menstruating. Newspapers have reported that the girls were forced to leave their classrooms and queue up outside.
A student speaking to Ahmedabad Mirror said, “The principal abused and insulted us, asking which of us were having our periods. Two of us who were menstruating stepped aside.”
“Despite this, we were all taken to the washroom. There, female teachers asked us to individually remove our undergarments so they could check if we were menstruating,” she said.
News agency ANI has reported that the dean of the Institute said that no one was forced to do anything.
“The matter is related to the hostel. It has nothing to do with the university or college. Everything happened with girls’ permission, nobody was forced for it. Nobody touched them. Still, an inquiry team has been formed to look into the matter,” Darshana Dholakia, the VC in charge, said.
Attempts to Silence Students:
Reports have said that one of the school’s executive council members, Pravin Pindoria, has threatened the students with expulsion if they proceed with legal action.
Moreover, it has been alleged that Pindoria forced them to sign a letter saying no such incident occurred in the college.
Ahmedabad Mirror also spoke to college trustee, PH Hirani, who seems to be acknowledging that the incident occurred. He said, “As the institute has a temple on campus, the girls have been instructed to follow the sect’s rules. However, what happened to the students is unfair. Action will be taken.
Students are claiming that they are regularly harassed over the issue of menstruation, and the rules of the sect are imposed on them.
In response, the National Commission for Women has taken cognisance of the issue and has instructed that a team be formed to investigate it. The NCW has promised that the team will visit the hostel, and collect first-hand information. They have also urged students to come out and narrate the incident to the team, so that justice can be served. The NCW has also written to the Principal and the college trustees, demanding an explanation for these allegations. A police complaint has not been filed yet.
Why this is important:
We live in a time of change. Over the past couple of years, we’ve seen global campaigns working against menstrual taboos, fighting to break the stigma against what is a very natural process.
India has seen an epidemic of girls dropping out of school when they begin menstruating, we have had a long history of marginalising bleeding women for being impure, and let’s face it - we’re still not at the point where people are comfortable discussing any of this in public.
India has taboos not only on menstruation but on myriad aspects of women’s health. The more we hush these topics up, the more likely it is that they are used as bases for human rights abuses. Too many women still face the stigma of bleeding - their period, their very female identity is a source of deep-rooted shame. It is now increasingly important and urgent that we step up the conversation around women’s reproductive health.
I grew up believing sanitary pads were a kind of portable ink blotter - handy and always available in case a stream of blue liquid magically appeared and poured out of nowhere. This is just indicative of how misinformed and misled the people in India are about mental health, across the socio-economic spectrum.
The narrative around periods needs to pick up steam, and the only way to combat these incidents is to talk more about menstrual health. We’re inundated with images of thin, young girls in white pants; prancing around while they bleed blue onto pads, with magical flowers floating around them - but the messy, immediate truth is ignored.
The 2019 theme for Menstrual Hygiene Day was spot on - ‘It’s Time For Action’. It’s now 2020. We’re past time for action. This shouldn’t be happening anymore.