The college wanted the young women to prove they were not menstruating, as female students are barred from entering the temple and kitchen during their periods
Sometimes, it really doesn’t feel like 2020. Last week, college students living in a hostel in the western Indian state of Gujarat were made to strip and show their underwear to female teachers, to prove that they were not menstruating.
This may sound bizarre, but in India, discrimination against women on account of menstruation is widespread. Periods have long been a taboo and menstruating women are considered impure. They are often excluded from social and religious events, denied entry into temples and shrines and kept out of kitchens.
On Tuesday, 68 undergraduate students at Shree Sahajanand Girls Institute (SSGI) – which is run by Swaminarayan sect, a conservative Hindu religious group – were pulled out of classrooms and taken to the toilet, where they were asked to individually remove their knickers for inspection.
According to the young women, a hostel official had complained to the college principal on Monday that some of the students were breaking rules menstruating women are supposed to follow – entering the temple, kitchen and touching other students. At meal times, they have to sit away from others and clean their own dishes.
One of the students told BBC Gujarati’s Prashant Gupta that the hostel keeps a register where they are expected to enter their names when they get their periods, which helps the authorities to identify them – but for the past two months, not one student had entered her name in the register. Well, it’s hardly surprising considering the restrictions they have to put up with if they do.
On Monday, the hostel official complained to the principal that menstruating students were entering the kitchen, going near the temple, and mingling with other hostellers, and then the students allege that, the next day, they were forced to strip.
The women described what happened to them as a ‘very painful experience’ that had left them ‘traumatised’.
They added that the ordeal amounted to ‘mental torture’.
Periods are a natural biological function – and these regressive ideas surely can’t continue much longer.