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The Forgotten Voices: Caste and Its Entanglement with Menstruation

Epistemic Injustice is defined as the ability to articulate your oppression, which is crucial to identify it. This means that knowing your pain is a privilege. With this vantage point, we shall explore how our society has shut out the forgotten voices of the ostracized. For centuries, the caste system has plagued India and its people. This has led to a disparity and marginalization in various aspects of life especially when it comes to menstruation.

The 21st century has seen a rise in activism related to menstrual hygiene in India. This has resulted in much-needed reforms like the removal of the 12% tax on sanitary goods in 2018. However, it is unfortunate to note the drastic disparity when it comes to participation in these movements. The discourse on menstruation features a disproportionally high number of upper caste and upper-middle-class women. While it is imperative to fight against the taboos related to menstruation, it is also essential to understand that menstruators’ experiences cannot be pigeonholed.

Practices such as prohibiting a menstruating person from touching objects or meeting the rest of the family are still prevalent in rural areas today. Women are placed in isolation and are considered “impure” while experiencing a completely normal biological process. This idea of impurity isn’t just attached to menstruation, it is rooted deep within the caste system as well.

It is at the intersection of class and caste where a person’s social identity is molded. And it is this eternal everlasting identity that prohibits Dalit women from entering temples while upper-caste women are free to do so. In 2015 a Dalit activist and human rights lawyer, Kiruba Munusamy was fired by her male superior for taking a period leave. Claims that all women are Dalits when it comes to menstruation not only acknowledge the widespread ostracization of the lower castes, but they also reveal our ignorance when it comes to understanding their experiences.

A survey conducted by the National Family Health Survey-4 revealed that 78% of women in urban households observe safe menstrual practices, whereas the average in rural areas is only a mere 48.2%. These unsafe practices have led to menstrual infections in 14% of women. The rural woman faces the exponential task of dealing with her period without appropriate sanitary products, but she also suffers the brunt of the discrimination fueled by the hierarchical caste system, illiteracy and misogynism.

It is imperative that we, as privileged individuals, lend our voices to aid our fellow menstruators and highlight their perils in mainstream discourse. With widespread education and the breaking down of caste hegemony, we will finally be able to progress as a society that views menstruation and all menstruators as human beings.

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