When Anjani Kumari hit her puberty, her mother asked him to climb trees or even touch them when she was menstruating or they would die. But, one day Kumari tested out the hypothesis on his own, and discovered that the story of the story was just that: a story.
This May, Kumari and other girls in her village have found another way of challenging such menstruation misconceptions – with a paint brush. The girls painted a mural which shows a Gulmohar tree blooming with red flowers, its trunk shaped like a woman’s body. A girl reads a book in its shade, and another swings on a branch. Above the tree, a lunar cycle shows different phases of the moon
It is one of the two murals that celebrate and normalise menstruation as a natural occurrence in the villages of Madransare and Naya Bhadiyara in Deoghar district of Jharkhand. Activist Srilekha Chakraborty came up with the idea of giving 20 local teenagers a brush to paint away period myths. “When I started working with young girls, I realized how little they knew about menstruation. Many believe that a leech had got their vagina when they were bathing in the river and the cause of the bleeding. Something needed to be done. “
Chakraborty partnered with NGO Network for Enterprise Enhancement and Development Support (NEEDS), and artists Shruti Ghosh and Francis Xavier Mathew from the Srishti School of Art, Design and Technology, local community with the messtruation around a dialogue to start creative ways. “The government has been largely talks about distribution of pads. When it comes to behavioural change and breaking taboos, we have to work in a way that is fun and involves the community – it does not necessarily have to be clinical. “
Many girls believe that a leech has got their vagina when they were bathing in the river or in the fields and caused the bleeding.
Srilekha Chakraborty, activist
The team worked with a group of 20 boys and girls between the ages of 15 and 19 from the neighboring villages. For the first encounter with paints and brushes “It was not about teaching them how to paint but questioning taboos, and expressing themselves,” says Ghosh, adding that the kids still have WhatsApp with their new murals they are making with leftover paint. “The motifs and messages for the murals came from the kids.”
Previously my younger sister was not allowed touch pickle or wash her hair at home, but this changed after I spoke to him and my mother
If the first mural drew from taboos like the ones facing, the idea for the second mural in the neighboring village of Naya Bhadiyara came from a group of boys. It shows a girl in a yellow dress floating on a river of blood, using a sanitary pad as her surf board, conveying a message of empowerment as well as the importance of using pads for personal hygiene. Both the murals were painted in strategic public spaces – The painting of a community tube well in Madransare where men and women gathered to fetch water and the river mural next to a new community hall in New Bhadiana.
Wall art is an important tool for public awareness at the grassroots level, adds Chakraborty. “The Swachh Bharat Abhiyan is also mandated to talk about menstruation but the focus of its wall art campaign has been completely built on toilet and talking about sanitation, while ignoring the menstrual hygiene,” she says.
When I told my mother, I climbed the tree and it still bore fruits, she understood. Now even she touches plants, plucks fruits and does puja
Since they were finished, the murals have helped make period talk a little less taboo and the air around local superstitions. “Many boys did not know why girls bleed,” says Murari Mohan Chowdhury of Needs. “The murals help explain that menstruation is a health issue and there should not be any stigma associated with it.” Pradeep Kumar Yadav, 18, says he has sensed the change in both his village and at home. “Before my younger sister was allowed to do things like touch pickle or wash her hair at home, but this has changed after I spoke to her and my mother. There is no shame in talking about it. “
Neelam Kumar Singh, 18, recalls how she will hide the cloth she used during the menstruation in the bathroom so that her brother and father wouldnt be able to see it. “Then we learn that the causes of bacteria and we should dry it in the sun,” she adds.
After helping paint the mural about the girls playing in the tree, Kumari finally told her mother about her little act of rebellion. “When I told her that I’d climbed the tree and it still bore fruits, she understood,” she says. “Now even she touches plants, plucks fruits and do pujas – all the things we were allowed to before.”
Video credit: Srilekha Ckakraborty