I come from a small village in Madhya Pradesh, called Alampur. I have many firsts to my name, be it being the first girl to have a graduate degree in my village to representing India in the Asian Games in Karate. While I value the impact of education in my life, I firmly believe that I get my confidence and self-esteem from being an athlete. For a girl from my village to dream about playing a sport was almost impossible till a few years back. Today through my organisation, Tinka Samajh Sanstha I have helped thousands of girls to play sports. Today girls in my community not only dream about winning a medal for the country, but also importantly for a lot of them sport has become a way of life. It has helped them improve their life-skills and confidence.
Image Courtesy- Hindustan Times
I am proud of where I am today, but it was not an easy road. I faced many obstacles especially to pursue my sports ambition, which included lack of resources, support from the community, infrastructure etc. But I don’t want to talk about those today. I want to talk about the lesser known obstacle that a lot of grassroot women athletes and girls in my community face- menstruation or periods.
I remember the day of my first period very vividly. When I look back at it today I do laugh at my experience, but while going through it that day I remember feeling very scared and anxious. My mother or any woman in my community had not told me about periods- the why, the how and the when of it. I was 13 when my period started. I had just got back from school and went to change my clothes and I saw a blood stain on my underwear and my urine. Initially I got scared, but then told myself that maybe it was a leech or an insect that might have bitten me. I just changed my clothes and went out. After sometime I again felt wet and weird,and my brother told me that there was a blood stain on my dress. I again quickly went inside and again changed my clothes. My parents were not home, and I would have changed my clothes at least 10 times before my mother finally came home.
In the evening my mother finally arrived. The moment she came and I told her everything. She quickly packed some of my things and took me to a separate room. She told me this happens to all women and that for the next five days I should not touch anything in the house. My food and water will be given to me separately and I should have no contact with anyone. No school, no playing with friends, nothing. I started crying, I thought I was being punished or something. I pleaded with her and asked her to not punish me. She gave me no other reason other than, ‘Yeh aisa hi hota hain auroton ke liye.” For the next few years I would dread those five days, so would all my girlfriends in school. It was a scary experience.
But then Karate happened. I absolutely loved the sport and enjoyed training in it. My coach was really inspiring and he pushed us girls as hard as boys. As I turned 18 I had more agency and awareness about my periods. I stopped staying in a dark room and questioned all the period rules at home. I never missed school and would just not budge to my family’s pressure. Though I couldn’t train during the first two days of periods. I would bunk practice, and my coach would always associate my bunking with laziness. I started using pads very recently. Before that it was always a cloth, also my first two period days were painful and I had a good amount of bleeding. When my coach would cite laziness for me missing training, I wished he could be more sensitive about it. I wished he could experience what we girls do. On top of that our Karate uniform was white. I would wear atleast a pad, a cloth over that, my innerwear, followed by shorts and then my uniform. Imagine the discomfort of playing like that. On top of that there was constant fear of staining my clothes. I would just not lift my leg to kick during those days. My coach would just not understand the reason behind me not kicking for a very long time. It was even worse for some of my playmates. A lot of them would just faint because of the pain, or stop playing completely fearing the embarrassment of staining their clothes and just the discomfort.
Tinka Samajh sessions- Picture courtesy Mana Mandlekar
For me though I stopped bunking sessions when I got a period during my tournament. I remember being in pain and discomfort but I told myself I had no choice and I had to forget everything and push through. I remember I didn’t win that bout but I won over my fear of things associated with periods after that. Since then I atleast go to watch practice or do light training during the first two days, and don’t take a complete day off. Also I am now using a menstrual cup, and things have become easier and cheaper after that.
In the last few years things have changed. Coaches and girls at least have some sense of menstruation, though there is still a long way to go for our community. In villages we still follow the irrational customs associated with periods and through my organisation and the girls in my community we are hoping to change that.
While I have gotten better with managing my periods and found my coping mechanisms with it, there is still a lot to learn and explore in this subject for me. I am hoping that through the Simply Period initiative I and my community could benefit in this area in the coming future.