I grew up in a liberal Sikh family. I do not remember having any religious restrictions imposed on me through my growing up years. Be thankful, do no harm to another and pray if you can - this in a crux was my father's idea of being religious. The idea was filtered down to me and that is all my religion ever was to me.
Honestly, I was never very religious, not even enough to fit the above ideals.
I went through a phase, in my teenage years, of questioning the very existence of God. Lacking any inclination to do an in-depth research or finding answers, I was content in my belief that there was a supreme being, a power, separate from religion altogether. Yes, so that sums up my take on religion. It’s confusing, it’s vague, but it suits me just fine.
Then I got married into a Hindu family. The adjustment was huge, the shock was great and the confusion was unimaginable.
My otherwise well educated and very modern new family was deeply religious and extremely superstitious. I accepted and fell in line with all these new customs, beliefs and practices. Partly because I think anyone’s faith is worth respecting and mostly because I wanted to avoid conflict. I despise conflict and sometimes will go to any end to avoid it, almost always to the detriment of my mental peace but hey! At least I avoid an unpleasant confrontation. ( Yes that’s a whole other write up for another time)
However, my greatest shock and disappointment stems from my family’s take on women’s menstrual cycle. It’s almost like they belong to another era, dating a couple of hundred years back.
The prayer room is off-limits, the kitchen is off-limits, participating in a simple pooja at home is off-limits and touching pickle is off-limits ( yes for real). Look I know this is pretty much a staple in a majority of middle-class households in India. But hey! I don’t have to like it or agree with it.
I just cannot wrap my head around the idea that women are impure during this period. LIKE REALLY!! So I went about seeking answers from my mother-in-law, husband and even the local priest (Panditji). Impure, that is all I came back with, different versions but the same inference.
So I did some more research and got answers with a different perspective. So here are the three angles I found
- According to Ayurveda, it’s all about the energy or chakras in the body. The lower chakras are involved in the menstrual process whereas the upper/higher chakras are engaged in the process of prayer and chanting. An engagement of both opposing chakras can cause discomfort to the woman. It is for this reason that women do not go to temples during their menstrual period.
- Way back when corruption and power play had not intertwined with religion, women were considered at their purest during their menstrual cycle, so much so that they were equated to and revered as much as god/the idols worshipped in the temples. They, therefore, did not enter places of worship during this period.
- India apparently had a golden era where women were treated equal to their male counterparts and in consideration of the physical and emotional discomfort during the menstrual cycle, they were exempt from household chores.
While the above explanations do make some sort of sense, definitely more so than the ‘impurity’ angle, they remain largely unsatisfactory. A different take to the same outcome, the temple is off-limits, the kitchen is off-limits, etc.
How about we women get to choose. I want to be able to make the choice, in spite of the discomfort, in spite of the supposed reverence and in spite of pure consideration of my well-being, I want to choose whether or not I will cook, pray or serve pickle during that time of the month. It is simply the freedom of choice that I want.
But coming back to me, have I really done anything about my partly self-inflicted situation? NO. Not a darn thing because though I am seething inside, I frankly do not have the balls to face the ensuing conflict… not yet anyway.