23-year-old Sreya Salim is a student at Kozhikode Medical College, located over 400 kms from the state capital of Thiruvanthapuram. As an adolescent, she was expected to keep her period talks under-wraps. To her astonishment, the same closeted approach continued when she stepped into her medical college.
“What shocked me the most was how a campus of future medical doctors treated menstruation. It was considered a ‘dirty topic’. Male students would simply refrain from talking about it in open. Female students would buy sanitary napkins, veiling them in black plastic bags,” said Ms Salim to NDTV.
Pointing towards the sanitary pad dispenser in women’s common hall, Kavya Menon, a final year student at Kozhikode Medical College, said, “This is the fruit of our labour. Whenever I used to put forth this idea during union meetings, it was always followed by silence. Male and female students, uncomfortable with each other’s presence, would just not speak up.”
Women’s Day on March 8 triggered change at Kozhikode Medical College when like-minded male and female students joined hands to fight menstruation taboos.
Dr Karthika P, who has recently passed out from the college, is among those who spearheaded the movement. She recollected, “During one of our literary club’s sessions, we brainstormed on how we could get students to talk about menstruation openly and comfortably. It was our friend James Taul’s idea that struck a chord with all. He suggested we create a series of micro stories.”
And that’s how the campaign ‘Haiku: Micro Tales On Menstruation Taboos’ was born. Haiku is a short form of Japanese poetry. It consists of 17 syllables.
“We spread the word through posters and social media calling for entries. Slowly, the micro tales began pouring in,” said Deepshi Kadeeja, another student.
Ms Kadeeja used to stay up late into the night to compile the micro tales into a booklet. The students hope to publish the booklet soon. Ms Kadeeja said, “From portrayal of despair and stigma to glimmer of hope and change, the micro-tales we received covered a wide spectrum.”
Maiz Wafy, who helped Ms Kadeeja in compiling the booklet, said, “I come from a very conservative background. I felt quite awkward reading the entries in the beginning. After some candid conversations with my sisters and female friends in college, I got comfortable talking about periods openly. Now I believe that women should not be shamed for their bodies.”
“His wife died. He cooked for the first time. How could he let his daughter into kitchen – It was her time of the month”, wrote Athira Unni from Pune.
Safia Saleem of Calicut Medical College wrote :
“Neither the monthly melancholy,
The “Leave me alone!” and being all cross:
Nor the nasty cramps.
Unwelcome. All awful and gross;
But they ain’t terrible to tamper,
That firm faith when I utter,
“Yes, I am a XX and I love being one!”
Another medical student, Thasneem MP wrote:
“I’ll be tired.
I’ll be depressed.
I’ll be emotionally irritated.
But still, I am ready to bleed.
Because I wish I could be a reason
for a baby’s smile someday.”
On seeing her efforts come to fruition, Dr Karthika seemed pleased. She said, “Once Haiku started, a barrier was broken. In our campus, conversations around menstruation started flowing freely. This is what gives me immense happiness and hope.”