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Don’t Touch The Pickle! | By Pooja Jalan

Pickles

PicklesRecently, women employees under the age of 50 at Asma Rubber Private Limited, a firm in Kochi Kerala, were strip searched after two supervisors found a used sanitary napkin in the toilet. It started off as an interrogation on who had left the used napkin in the toilet but when nobody owned up to it, they decided to take it a step further by asking the women to strip. This horrific incident has now led to charges of outraging women’s modesty being registered against the lady supervisors and a sweeper. The company also temporarily shut down.

Menstruation is nothing but a bodily function that all women go through, so to be treated like they have the plague during that time is deplorable to say the least.

While the incident is shocking, what comes as a bigger shock is that Kerala, the state in which this took place, has the highest literacy rate amongst all Indian states. In order to understand what the literacy rate has to do with this humiliating incident, we must first understand the underlying beliefs surrounding menstruation in India.

The practice of segregating menstruating women started back in the days when sanitary pads were not available. The idea behind this was to give women some rest and also for hygienic reasons due to the unavailability of sanitary pads. This, however, has now evolved into a taboo of sorts where menstruating women are not allowed into temples, into their kitchens, visit people’s homes, or even sleep on a bed! One would assume these primitive practices were probably only inherent in the rural areas but a survey carried out by the US consumer giant, Procter and Gamble, and market researcher IPSOS, revealed that 59 per cent of urban women still follow these strange customs. In fact Procter and Gamble’s latest commercial for sanitary pads ends with the catchphrase “touch the pickle”, referring to the ridiculous myth that a jar of pickle touched by a menstruating woman will spoil.

This aside, even the purchasing of sanitary pads is considered a shameful act because of which some women use discarded cloth instead, which they then wash and reuse. The ludicrous beliefs and practices do not stop here. In some villages, research has revealed, menstruating women are confined in a small room with no lights and food is thrown at them from the door. All of this stems from the idea that menstruating women are “impure”. What is rather ridiculous and contradictory is that it is these beliefs that force these women to resort to unhygienic ways such as reusing discarded cloth instead of opting for the hygienic option – the use of sanitary napkins!

This, however, has now evolved into a taboo of sorts where menstruating women are not allowed into temples, into their kitchens, visit people’s homes, or even sleep on a bed!

Given that India has progressed so much in other areas, it is rather surprising to see such practices still taking place. Menstruation is nothing but a bodily function that all women go through, so to be treated like they have the plague during that time is deplorable to say the least. It is for this reason that it was so shocking that women were strip searched in Kochi, because Kerala has the highest literacy rate in India and we would expect people to be educated enough to understand that it is nothing but a normal bodily function.

However, that is not the case, and the truth of the matter is that these beliefs are so embedded in people’s minds that even being educated has little effect in eradicating them. We can only hope that over time and through initiatives to increase awareness, women will be treated better and will be able to be more open about this matter in India.

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