“How would they know?” Dalit women talk about caste discrimination (part 1)

While having lunch with some of the Sanchalakis (coordinators) and karyakarthas (activists) of the Jagrutha Mahila Sanghatana, a Dalit women’s collective in Potnal.  We mentioned that while coming on the bus from Raichur station, we passed a number of elaborate temples.

Were these temples open to all?  We wondered aloud.

Yes, yes, they said.  Anyone can go there.  The temples don’t ban anyone.

“So you can enter any temple, if you wish?” we asked pointedly.  Mariamma replied that she was not very familiar with the rules of the temples.   Narsamma said, “other than in our own village, we can enter any temple.”

“And in your own village?”  we wanted to know.

“In our own village we can come to the steps of the temple but not inside the temple.”

“What will happen if you go inside?”

She laughed and said, “People will say, look at these people, they think they are so great they are brazenly going inside the temple.”

They said this so matter-of-factly that I felt I had to explain why we were asking particularly about this.   “When we talk about Dalits being denied entry into temples, many people don’t believe that it still happens today,” I said.

“How would they know?”  Narsamma asked me.  “We are stopped at the steps, so we know.  They are not, so they don’t see it.”

These Dalit women had begun organizing 15 years ago, a story they have told often and recently documented in a photo essay and video.  They united and gained the courage to speak up at panchayat meetings, to demand rations and anganwadi services, housing loans and access to other government services.  They were kind enough to share their stories again when we went to meet them.

[To be Continued]


In Kotayya’s place, what would you do?

The Setting: 

Two families.  One wealthy, landed, and upper-caste.  The other landless, untouchable and surviving on daily wages.  As expected in the world of 1950s Telugu cinema, the children of the two houses, Papa and Sekhar, fall in love.   After various scenes and turns of the movie play out, the jamindar family consents to the alliance with a condition.  Kotayya, the poor man, must agree never to see his daughter, Papa again.  Then the rich family will accept Papa as the daughter-in-law of their house.   Kotayya finds the condition too hard to bear.

In this scene, Sekhar’s uncle persuades him to consent to the condition for the sake of his daughter’s happiness.   Finally Kotayya agrees and turns to leave the house.  On his way out,  another elder relative of Sekhar’s stops Kotayya with an offer he can’t refuse.  Or can he?  Should he?


Imagine:  You are Kotayya.  What would you do?   Accept?  Walk away?  Another course of action?

Explain the reason for your choice.



Should the ICDS serve packaged food?

In the 2010 Seattle conference we held a debate on the question:  “Should the ICDS serve packaged food?”  Volunteers broke up into small groups and tried to argue for and against this proposition.   Afterwards one person came forward to argue in favour and another to argue against in a debate before the entire group.

Two points are worth mentioning from this exercise

– People found it very difficult to find any points in favour of procuring and serving packaged foods through the ICDS.

– After the session, one person came to me, as the facilitator of the session, and complained that the entire session was a waste of time because it was simply a “no-brainer” that the government should provide food grains or freshly cooked food and not processed and packaged foods through its welfare programs.

All the same, Amartya Sen, Jean Dreze and many others others have spoken out publicly against the proposal.

Yet this no-brainer proposal continues to come before the Ministry of Child Welfare and several states have in fact introduced packaged foods through the ICDS.   The packaged food industry markets and lobbies for their product very aggressively.  Using the same tactics that worked fifty years ago in the US, the industry first persuades people to think about nutrients rather than foods, and then prints nutrient information on their labels and advertisements.  Unlabelled and unadvertised food does not boast such nutrient information and may come up with lower numbers even if someone calculated specific nutrients.  But there is a world of difference between nutrients occurring as part of food and nutrients added in a factory.

See also: ICDS gets packaged food for the malnourished.   Down to Earth, March 15, 2008.
Hot meal for kids? Renuka sells ready-to-eat.  Telegraph, Oct 3, 2008.
Keep industrial food out of ICDS


How will the government address the agricultural crisis?

10 TV Special Report: ” Government should help Farmers Families …”

Includes extremely moving interviews with several survivors in families in which farmers have committed suicide.   They explain the extent of their debt, how much they spent on seeds / pesticides,  how much land they had / have lost, what work they are doing now, and how their kids are handling the consequences.
The reporter mentions the GO 421 designed to provide relief to these families, as well as efforts of organizations like:  Raithu Swaraj Vedika, Caring Citizens Collective and AID India.
Also includes comments from Uma garu and Kiran.

Uma garu talks about the efforts of Raithu Swaraj Vedika and appeals to the public to join in seeing that we never forget the farmers and their invaluable role in society.

Kiran explains that:
Women survivors of farmers who have committed suicide in extreme distress, bear a heavy burden of supporting the family.  In 2004, the government promised an ex-gratia for these people through GO 421 .  From then to now, 2500 farmers have been committing suicide every year, but the government is only allotting this ex-gratia to 100-150 people every year.   What will become of the others? They should at least receive humanitarian relief, but if the government is not even able to implement the GO designed for that, then how will the government be able to address the agricultural crisis?

Why are we advocating organic methods of farming?

Questions asked after Farmer’s Vigil

Why Organic?
Locally, people often use the phrase “Low-input Sustainable Agriculture” rather than “organic.” The aim is two-fold – to make agriculture remunerative to farmers and to make it sustainable year after year by enhancing the quality of the farm and the soil. This requires moving away from the Green Revolution paradigm of dependence on chemical fertilizers, pesticides and seeds from the market. In Vidarbha, Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Uttaranchal and elsewhere, farmers are successfully moving to methods which require very little expenditure on external inputs. What is more, these methods rejuvenate the soil at the end of the season so that agriculture is sustainable year after year. Organic farming is being successfully used even for crops like paddy, sugarcane and cotton.

You may read more about this on the AID Agri page which is updated with literature on pesticides & fertilizers, site visit reports to groups practicing organic or low-input sustainable agricutlure.



In response to  Nishank Sah: ” I was just wondering if AID is currently involved in any Anti-DOWRY campaign.”

Funny, a journalist wondering the same thing called me a few days ago. She wanted to find out why the campaign was no longer active in AID.

I offered some possible explanations …. key volunteers leading the effort moving to India and not keeping up contact, decline of the yahoo group (partly due imho to cross-posting and spam) , and also major emergencies that exhausted our volunteer resources such as communal riots in Gujarat, Tsunami. Also that those who took initiative in the anti-dowry campaign were the same people who were working actively in Narmada, Bhopal, Farmers’ Crisis, and several other major issues which demanded our time and energy.

Dowry is a hard issue because it means changing something about ourselves, our attitudes, our lifestyles.
It is easier to cite the above reasons but there is also something about the rising consumerism, changing demographics of AID volunteer base, changing forms of dowry, sexism … that demands our introspection as well.

Anyway the journalist was interested in meeting a young couple in India preparing for marriage and facing and resisting family expectations regarding dowry.

Do you know anyone she could interview? She is going to India in January.


by Nishank Sah on Mon Nov 03, 2008 6:11 pm


I was just wondering if AID is currently involved in any Anti-DOWRY campaign and I came across this old thread. The discussions were really insightful and still pertinent.

Currently, what is the stand of AIDers against dowry? Especially among the unmarried folks??

Some survey was proposed to be taken to know the opinion of AIDers on different aspects related to dowry and inter-caste marriages. Had we collected any facts related to it?

Though, the demand for Dowry might have subdued per se, but it has metamorphosed into another subtle forms, like giving of gifts, jeweleries, ostentatious wedding celebrations (the cost to be born by bride’s parents), etc.

Moreover, still there are many young folks, who would not ask for dowry on their own, but who won’t oppose their parents demand either, saying “I can’t say no if my parents ask the bride’s family for dowry. Maybe I won’t ask dowry for my kids’ marriages.”

One of the best solutions for curbing the effects of dowry can be as simple as, a couple spending 50-50% on wedding arrangements on their own (assuming both are working), and keeping it low scale than pressurizing the bride’s parents for arrangements.

I am not sure, as how much just signing a NO DOWRY pledge online by people would lead to its actual implementation.

Nishank Sah

Radhika Rammohan on Thu Jun 15, 2006 3:26 pm

hi Shailabh,

Actually the point I was making was re. the society, expectations and “pressure” that people put on themselves even if it is not external. The notion is well-entrenched in our society that the girl’s family should do everything possible to ensure the couple start off to a good std. of living and that the wedding itself, and all its expenses are to be met by them — even if the grooms family were to be quite progressive the bride’s fmly will go out of their way and spend on the occasion.

Most parents of girls will have something put away for these purposes and that kitty would have been growing since the girl’s childhood. You brought up a point of “what if the grooms parents are not that well-off”. If groom’s parents were to be working under the assumption that roughly 50% of their son’s wedding and marriage start-up expenses are to be met by them, perhaps they would create such kitties too… just speculating.

“display and pressure” are relative — to me a lavish wedding whose expenses are footed by the girls family, and where dispoportionate level of gifts given by one side are indications of this social conditioning. It is of course FAR preferable to the arm-twisting and conditional marriages one sees.

My thoughts are not a departure from the original dowry FAQ…. if you see the next para in the faq.

      Nevertheless if parents wish to give anything to their daughter on the occasion of her marriage, they should give it in her own name and see that she is fully aware of how to manage the assets and capable of using them according to her own wishes and needs.

Shailabh Nagar on Thu Jun 15, 2006 2:45 pm

LS Aravinda wrote:

I was trying to get at what definition of dowry would be used that people would be pledging to work against and whether that can be something as rigid

ANTI DOWRY campaign pledge and faq may be a good start.

The pledge and FAQ were quite useful and seem like a good way of conveying what is meant. In particular,

Any gift given by the bride’s family to the groom’s family as a condition of marriage, under social pressure for fulfilling customs, or for showing the bride’s family status or under fear of ill- being of the bride, is a dowry. A gift given without such display or pressure or condition is not considered a dowry.

I felt that the direction in which Radhika was going with her interpretation of a gift given willingly went against the last line….and hence the questioning…

In line at the Kurla railway station, I conversed with a gentleman who started mentioning his child’s wedding and I started mentioning the dowry free wedding campaign. He also proposed hypothetical scenarios and asked me if that was dowry or not. I simply said that as an observer I may not know but the persons giving and receiving will know what they are doing and it is up to them to think judiciously about this, if they believe in the campaign, and act accordingly.

Very well put.
Sorry for being the online equivalent of your railway gentleman and
creating a “hypothetical scenario” diversion in this thread :-)

I think Ravi and your suggestions on getting feedback from the people
who use this kind of site would be quite valuable in taking action.


Vani Vemparala on Wed Jun 14, 2006 5:54 am

And what if the groom’s parent’s aren’t as well off ? Do you advocate the girls parent’s should hold back in giving so they fit this proposed definition of what is dowry and what isn’t ? This isn’t a rhetorical question but a real one.

I think the issue is one of expectation. whether groom’s parents and rich or poor, they cannot have any expectations that girl’s parents should/shouldn’t do something.

let me give an example. if groom’s parents are not that well off, would they invite 1000 guests, if they were footing the bill? may be not. so why should they, if the bride’s parents are the ones who are paying for it? groom’s parents being ‘poor’ as in your example, does not entitle them to a single paisa of bride’s/bride’s parents money. Marraige is not a lottery ticket. If the starting of the life together is with these expectations (which have nothing to do with intrinsic qualities of two people, who are going to be living together), it is quite a slippery slope from there, IMO.

I think some of the posts here are talking about the expectations on the bride’s parents that have been levied for so long. if the parents of bride are ’empowered’ enough to make decisions (irrespective of societal expectations) whether they want/not want to give, those examples will automatically not fit into the campaign.

As I understand, the campaign exists because this expectation exists and reaches ugly levels quite frequently in a myriad of forms.

manoj tammiraju on Tue Jun 13, 2006 7:07 pm

As radhika was mentioning may be its the sharing of expenses that would bring down the way money is spent in marriages. well with this issue partly the fault attributes to both the sides, groom and the bride.

The major problem I feel with dowry and many other things is that many don’t see these things as issues unless some art film/documentary or an utter tragedy points it out blatently as these are so ingrained in the society making us callous to their presence and acceptance. For some even if they see it around unless it happens in their family they even don’t care. And many even if they see don’t realize the potetial impact they can make to society they live in (both positive or negative).

What do you all think about starting out with questions to our own AIDers and see in a week what all we feel about this system as such and suggestions on how to counter it. Since we (guys) in AID were complimented to be a “good boys” in conference :wink: and in AID there are girls who are saying “death to dowry”, lets see on a whole what we all feel and how much we commit to the issue. I believe the survey suggested by Brunda and Dwiji is a good start.

I feel the questions should converge in bringing up the point that what ever some of us might do as a fashion and others consider as tradition is turning out to be a compultion to many. Probably we leaving out some of this “maryada” or “shaan” or “status” things to a little extant might bring in a good change and stop this unnecessary selling and buying process.

My way of looking at it is surely not to suggest in having ideal marriages like signing registers… The dreams of grand marriages is no harm as long as we are observing the social impacts we might be causing. Leaving alone those things… enjoyammadi 8) …..

My discussions with some really outspoken and well educated girls and guys:

1. Its ok as long as the dowry is a one time affair as its pretty common and as long as the grooms side doesn’t pester again and again, I don’t mind my father giving a dowry. (what happens if they do?? No idea)

2. I am not interested in dowry and all things mama but you know these are formalities of parents. I don’t care much about it and why should I when they are capable of giving and my parents are not forcing anything anyway.

3. When guy says it would be good to share the expenses as its not like one is giving and other is taking but two families getting together… The response was nah it would not look nice upon us, though its a good thinking.

4. If I won’t someone else will give and if I haven’t had sister I would have waited to say I would marry the guy who won’t ask for dowry. Well anyways even if some may not ask dowry they would be looking at the aspect that I am earning and my salary comes in. So who do you think is better the one who openly asks dowry or who had such a thing in mind and marries me giving a show as if he is Lord Rama.

5. Come on ra I don’t like dowry but see its a status symbol. My cousin was given a crore and me being in US my parents expect to show my worth more than that. Above all do you know they would think that I have some defect if there is no mention of dowry.

Ravi Kuchimanchi on Tue Jun 13, 2006 2:00 pm

hi all,

when we say no dowry we expect the couple will resist asking or taking dowry that can be initiated by their parents and others. dowry will in all likelihood be discussed by them and we hope and expect they actually succeed in haVING A dowry-free MARRIAGE.

no caste means we wont allow caste to be disclosed in matrimony announcements. again it will in all likelihood come up in discussions they have with each other and family members. i have seen several AID pairs whose parents succeeded in preventing their inter-caste marriage.

maybe on both counts — dowry and caste — we should ask people advertising to say if they have their parents consent for dowry-free and inter-caste weddings before they use our site. if they have do not have or do not want to involve their parents while placing ad. they should state how their parents are likel;y to react and how they will convince their parents.

we should request couple to give us post-wedding feedback on how they handled dowry and caste and to what extent they had to compromise.

likewise even one of them can give anonymous feedback on negative aspoects — like if parents succeeded in breaking marriage plans or if they married but dowry was actually taken. we should have a way where even we dont know who the person is who is writing to us but know its genuine as s/he used a code number that the computer assigned to him/her at time of placing ad.

these feedback should be made available sans all personal references on matrim. site.



uttar la jamin par

uttar la jamin par

27th June 2006

tu zinda hai to zindagi ki jit par yakin kar
agar kahin hai svarg to uttar la jamin par

You are alive … Believe it, live!
If anywhere there be a heaven, bring it down to earth!

From a song popularised by the Youth Choirs of Mumbai and Calcutta in the 1950s, this line remains a rallying cry for the people’s movements ranging from college NSS groups and Girl Guides to Feminist Revolutionaries.

Optimistically exhorting us not to consign all good things to the afterlife and the otherworld, but rather to live well here and now, this song urges us to find answers and touch the foundations of justice within ourselves, rather than blaming past lives or looking for supernatural explanations.

When my daughter was born, 10 days past “due,” I discovered a new meaning to this song .. . womb is heaven, I reflected, where needs are met even without being needed.  And yet the baby chooses to come into our world where she must learn new ways to satisfy her desires, and depends utterly on others to hear and help her.  Of all people newborns are most cognizant of what heaven must be, and most vigorously determined to bring it about on earth.
Just as Gandhian ideals have contributed to renewed efforts towards deeply nonviolent parenting, what we learn from our children, starting at birth, can help us build a more peaceful, trusting and cooperative society.

It was a meeting outside the Collector’s office in Nandurbar District, Maharashtra that I discovered how systematically the government failed to hear people’s voices and how ruinously this boded for the country’s development planning and implementation.  The same women who were so vocal in all the village meetings and leading the shouting in the rally through the district headquarters, were silent before the Collector himself.  When I asked why, they told me they could not understand his language – Marathi.  They spoke Pavri, Bhilali, and the Collector’s office did not even bother to hire an interpreter for this meeting with its own constituents.  Two days of talking and waiting yielded nothing. The Deputy Collector, however, spoke the tribal language, and could put himself in the people’s shoes, because he too had been displaced due to the Akai dam project.  It was he who cut through the tall claims made in the Supreme Court and got through to the reality of how much land was available for rehabilitation.  Unfortunately, he was transferred the following day.

Since then I have worked to hear people’s voices and make others hear them as well.  While District administrators might prefer to speak a more polished Telugu or even English, we speak only to introduce and facilitate the villagers’ speaking and we ourselves translate if required.

Everyday ethical thumbrules such as the golden rule, asking, “what if everyone were to do this?” in deciding on a course of action, or not blaming people in their absence, all guide us in upholding the principle of transparency ourselves.

In most social structures, where there is a hierarchy, no matter how many decisions are made democratically, there are usually a few who exercise greater authority and a large number whose lives are affected by their decisions.  Transparency requires those in authority to be prepared to explain their decisions and share information with all whom they govern.  Parenting was my first and most intense experience of being an authority figure and I find that I deeply cherish the principle of transparency to help me through all difficulties.   People usually say that you should talk to your infants because your voice is soothing, and this will help them learn to communicate.  I found talking extremely useful in the early weeks and months just to get through any tough moment.  Whether she objected to riding in her carseat, wanted to be upstairs when I was taking her downstairs, wanted to stay outside when we had to go inside …  whatever was the conflict, I could just talk about what we were doing, how long it would take, why and what alternatives we had.  I could repeat this explanation and even set it to a tune.  Though it was not always democratic, it was transparent.  Getting into the habit of explaining myself also helped me evaluate options and eventually, I feel, this did empower my daughter to articulate her ideas with confidence that her views mattered.

In my brief stint in the corporate world, though I was not in sales, we all went through customer service training to improve our teamwork skills.  Acknowledge others, put yourself in their shoes, own success by sharing it, explain a delay or failure openly rather than keeping quiet about it. While perhaps tricky to implement in a cutthroat business environment, these principles cultivate trust and transparency.  These days when a flight is delayed for take off the pilot will get on the intercom and say what the problem is.  It was not always this way.  Taking passengers into confidence helps them put themselves in the shoes of the pilot and realize that if they were facing these problems they would do exactly the same thing.

Since parents must impose some authority and the child’s voice, especially in the younger years, will never be equal to the parents’, parents have a solemn duty not only to listen to that voice and to empower it as much as possible, but also to be accountable for whatever authority they do impose.  The endless “whys” of children are their attempt to hold parents accountable and parents who take these questions seriously, accept the child’s curiosity and interest in finding reasons, will be able to encourage their children to question authority, including their own, even if they do not always have satisfactory answers for the questions.  Simply knowing that one is accountable to those over whom one exercises authority, will transform the relationship so that the child’s authority is also allowed to emerge in various spheres, nurturing a reciprocity where parent and child feel comfortable in respecting one another and authority remains tucked away in the background.


Is it true that you are still …

Is it true that you are still …

18th May 2006

Is it true that you are still …
March 2006 / Mumbai

A woman interrupted me last night as I was taking printouts of the petitions we were planning to send to the Prime Minster to stop the Sardar Sarovar project from going up to 121 m. Urging me aside, she told me, “As early as possible you should stop breastfeeding her.”

She was probably not the only one surprised when my daughter nursed during the meeting, but she was the only one to state her views so directly. Unprepared for such a confrontation, I simply said, “I am very busy, and I am not going to stop breastfeeding now.” Seconds later, more crisp responses filled my head … “Really, this is neither the time nor the place…” but alas, the moment was gone. Not that it is the first time. I was once stopped on the street by an elderly woman who looked uncomfortable as I said “hi” as I walked into a party that she was just leaving. As she walked slowly towards me I smiled and waited for her acknowledge my greeting before I continued walking towards the house. She finally said, “Is it true that you are still breastfeeding your daughter?”

Most of the conversations I’ve had about breastfeeding (and I do have a lot) are among friends who are also mothers and who don’t need to be reminded of the basic facts … that the World Health Organisation recommends breastfeeding at least for 2 years and beyond as long as mother and child wish. That breastfeeding offers nutrition superior to any other food or drink. That cow’s milk is for baby cows and human milk is for baby humans. That breastfeeding is so much more than nutrition – it is immunity not only to germs but also to excessive stimuli from the environment, it nurtures one’s sense of wholeness, it is comfort after a fall or stress, and of course, it is a warm cozy place to sleep, etc. The world offers alternatives for all of these functions, and the child who learns to avail these at her own pace will utilise them best. Children in adivasi societies, from whom we have much to learn, are allowed to wean naturally, meaning that no one really monitors their weaning. One fine day people may notice that the child hasn’t nursed in a while. Somewhat the same way children in urban societies may start eating meals on their own, or knowing the way home on their own.

A rural parent may be more than amused to see urban children being spoon-fed. I myself have seen urban parents spoon feeding their children even into adulthood. However the rural parent will refrain from judgement, at least aloud. If only we afforded them the same courtesy!

Breastfed children may have the freedom to discover the world of solid foods at their own pace, since they are not dependent on these for nutrition. They need not be fed at all – parents need only present fresh and healthy food and let the babies do the rest. Spend a day with an adivasi family and you will see that babies and young children are quite self sufficient when it comes to eating. No coaxing, cajoling. These parents read no research articles like (quote) which meticulously urge parents to allow self feeding from infancy, avoiding even suggesting that the child “finish the plate” or have an extra bite after the child stops on his own. In this way, they say, the child learns to guage his own hunger and satiety and not reply on external signals like parental approval, or amount on the plate as an indicator of how much he should eat.

While the adivasi diet is not as varied as the city diet, nearly all the food is not only grown locally but prepared fresh, to the point of freshly stone grinding their grains twice a day. Their chapatis perhaps offer more nutrition than our vegetables which we import from long distances and eat days or even weeks after they are harvested before the point of ripeness. And though their fruits and vegetables are far fewer, they are always fresh.

Often writings in the West take for granted that breastfeeding is better understood, supported and more widely practiced in “traditional societies.” While this may be true in the fourth world, i.e. tribal or indigenous communities, and those parts of the “third world” that have sustained their natural resource base and along with it, their parenting traditions, in the semi-urban, urban, and urbanizing parts of the third world, we see an abrupt departure from generations of family living wisdom. Nearly every component of the “attachment parenting” model that is gaining popularity as well as growing support from the medical establishment in Western countries – sleepsharing, breastfeeding, babywearing and natural infant hygiene (using cloth diapers or no diapers) is falling out of fashion among those who have been practicing these for generations without ever having to read a book, consult a doctor or chat in an online support forum.

What may be most telling of all, of course, is what my friends at the meeting last night may not have noticed. Without the benefit of breastfeeding, what 2 year old child is able to attend a meeting for 2 hours late in the evening? Sure, she brought along snacks, but breastmilk is much more than protein, vitamins, superior fats and highly absorbable minerals. In a crowded room, breastfeeding gives baby a safe haven where she can touch home base, settle and process her observations.

[to be continued …]


Could the menstrual cup work for Indian Women?

Update:  Shecup now supplies the menstrual cup in India

Could the menstrual cup work for Indian Women?

Using the cup has the potential to make the days of a woman’s menstrual cycle feel “just like any other day” of the month. Considering that a normal period usually lasts 3-7 days, this represents 10 – 25% of a woman’s life during the years that she is menstruating. The average woman will menstruate for 35-45 years, minus about 2-3 years for each baby she carries to term for 9 months and exclusively breastfeeds for at least 6 months. This is easily 30 years or 360 months in which she must be aware of and manage her menstrual flow.

Traditionally women have torn or cut up old clothes and folded the cloth into layers that absorb the blood that flows during the period. Those who have enough water can wash and reuse these; those without adequate water supply may risk reusing improperly washed cloths, possibly resulting in health problems. While the method is economical and relatively ecofriendly, the folded layers of cloth may prove bulky and difficult to change while out of the home. Given water and soap for washing, cloth pads cost little or nothing, and so one can change them as often as desired for maximum comfort. Ready-made cloth menstrual pads available in North America, Europe and China offer women the comfort of cloth in contoured, stitched pads that are neat, trim and easy to change and wash. Women can easily use these even when traveling or going out to college, office, etc.

In India, the only convenient option for women on the go has been disposable sanitary napkins. All varieties on the market are made by multinational companies. Therefore there is a sharp contrast between the old fashioned local method and the modern western method. There are no pre-stitched cloth menstrual pads that allow women comfort and convenience at low cost. In order to be as comfortable with a disposable pad as one could be with cloth, one would have to change the pads at least every two hours, perhaps more during heavy flow or hot and humid weather. For an average period of 5 days, this would require a minimum of 50 pads, running to Rs. 100-150 per month. For many women this is unaffordable and as a result they will change pads less often so as to use fewer pads. Therefore a commercial product that is marketed as offering superior benefits is actually used in a way that works more poorly than the home-made solution, much the same way low income parents may purchase expensive baby foods and then dilute them.

While disposable pads do not require washing, they do require sanitary disposal. This is also difficult to find in most places and the sight of used pads in the open is not uncommon. Even when cost is no concern, a woman may refrain from changing a pad as soon as she wishes, simply for want of a place to dispose the used pad. Therefore she continues wearing it until she can identify a sanitary place to change it. This is not only uncomfortable but can also exacerbate the cramps that affect many menstruating women.

Because of these worries and discomforts, most women consider the days of their period somewhat inconvenient if not downright painful. Apart from discrimination and superstitions regarding menstruation that many women, both urban and rural continue to face, women themselves are not able to treat these days exactly like all others. While planning any special event, outing, or important work, a woman will hope or try to ensure that it does not happen during her period. Since periods are not always regular, one leaves a margin of error, meaning even more days are ruled out. These are just a few of the myriad ways the monthly cycle affects women’s lives.

An alternative method of collecting and disposing of menstrual flow is the menstrual cup. A small, flexible cup made of rubber or silicone, inserted in a woman’s vaginal opening to catch the blood as it flows from the cervix, was developed in the 1940s. Women who use it have reported the following advantages:

milder cramps, or none, even for those who previously had
reduced duration of the period
no smell, stain
no bulk – feels like nothing
no waste
easy to wash
can forget that you are even having your period

This option is currently not available in India. If available, it could contribute to a woman’s sense of freedom and help her overcome inhibitions in participating in a variety of activities that may require her to leave the house for a few hours or longer during her period. Even today, urban as well as rural women are subject to segregation and untouchability during menstruation. The fact of menstruation is used to justify a range of other restrictions that societies impose upon women as well. The cup could also help women combat the sense of shame and impurity and challenge sexism in other contexts as well.

For further background see also “Greeting Aunt Flo” in Manushi No 150,

Update:  Shecup now supplies the menstrual cup in India