- GS-1: Women and their problems; Social Empowerment
- GS-2: Mechanisms, laws, institutions and Bodies constituted for the protection and betterment of these vulnerable sections.
Context: In a PIL Case Nirjhari Mukul Sinha v. Union Of India, the Gujarat High Court has passed an order proposing nine guidelines that the state should follow to end menstruation taboo and discriminatory practices pertaining to it.
About the Unfortunate Incident
- In February 2020, 66 girls of Shree Sahjanand Girls Institute (SSGI) in Bhuj Town of Gujarat were made to undress, by the college and hostel authorities, to check if they were menstruating. Two others who said that they were menstruating, were not stripped.
- After the initial probe, Darshana Dholakia, in-charge vice-chancellor of the university to which the college is affiliated, had justified the action, saying the girls were checked because the hostel has a rule that girls on their menstrual cycle are not supposed to take meals with other inmates.
- This soon led to a widespread public outrage leading to the arrest of four and filing of FIR in Gujarat High Court, seeking direction for a law to specifically deal with the exclusionary practice against women on the basis of their menstrual status.
The Court proposed to issue the following directions for the State Government to follow;
- Prohibit social exclusion of women on the basis of their menstrual status at all places, be it private or public, religious or educational
- The State Government should spread awareness among its citizens regarding the social exclusion of women on the basis of their menstrual status through various mediums
- Empowerment of women through education and increasing their role in decision-making can also aid in this regard;
- Sensitization of health workers, ASHA and Anganwadi Workers regarding menstruation biology must also be done so that they can further disseminate this knowledge in the community and mobilize social support against busting menstruation-related myths.
- The State Government should hold campaigns, drives, involve NGOs and other private organizations to spread such awareness;
- The State Government should prohibit all educational institutions, hostels, and living spaces for women-studying working and others, private or public, by whatever name called, from following social exclusion of women on the basis of their menstrual status in any manner;
- The State Government should undertake surprise checks, create an appropriate mechanism and take such other actions, steps as may be necessary to ensure its compliance including the imposition of an appropriate penalty against the erring institution.
Analysis of the issue
- Form of Untouchability: It has been argued that treating menstruating women differently amounts to a practice of untouchability.
- Violation of Fundamental Rights: The practice which is being followed and encouraged of exclusion of women on the basis of their menstrual status is violative of human, legal and fundamental rights of women, more particularly, those as enshrined under Articles 14, 15, 17, 19, and 21 respectively of the Constitution.
- Stigmatisation of Menstruation: Menstruation has been stigmatized in our society. This stigma has built up due to the traditional beliefs in impurity of menstruating women and our unwillingness to discuss it normally
- Daily restrictions faced by women: Not entering the “puja” room is the major restriction among the urban girls whereas, not entering the kitchen is the main restriction among the rural girls during menstruation. Menstruating girls and women are also restricted from offering prayers and touching holy books
- Patriarchal beliefs: The underlying basis for this myth is also the cultural beliefs of impurity associated with menstruation and that it is believed that menstruating women are unhygienic and unclean and hence the food they prepare or handle can get contaminated.
- Impact on Education: Large number of girls in many less economically developed countries drop out of school when they begin menstruating (over 23% of girls in India)
- Impact on Health: Such taboos about menstruation present in many societies impact on girls’ and women’s emotional state, mentality and lifestyle and most importantly, health. 88% of women in India sometimes resort to using ashes, newspapers, dried leaves and husk sand to aid absorption. Poor protection and inadequate washing facilities may increase susceptibility to infection.
- Lacks Awareness and Public debate: Young girls often grow up with limited knowledge of menstruation because their mothers and other women shy away from discussing the issues with them.
- Against Right to Privacy: Exclusion on the basis of menstruation status is not only an infringement of women’s bodily autonomy but also an infringement of right to privacy
- Against Judicial Precedence in Sabarimala Verdict: The petitioners have relied on the Supreme Court’s Sabarimala temple entry judgment where a 4:1 majority bench had held that the temple’s practice of excluding women’s entry is unconstitutional
- Gender–unfriendly school culture and infrastructure and the lack of adequate menstrual protection alternatives and/or clean, safe and private sanitation facilities for female teachers and girls undermine their right to privacy.
However, before issuing appropriate directions, as referred to above, the Court has sought the response of the State Government as well as the Union of India.
Connecting the dots: