The Hon’ble Gujarat HC proposed to “prohibit the social exclusion of women based on their menstrual status at all places, be it private or public, religious or educational”.
Hon’ble HC proposed a set of guiding principles that the State Government should follow to end Menstruation Taboo while recommending the same the Hon’ble HC emphasized that all religions (excluding Sikhism) refer to a menstruating woman as “ritually unclean”,
The Hon’ble Bench while hearing public interest litigation (PIL) led in connection with an unfortunate incident wherein, over 60 girls in a hostel of Shree Sahjanand Girls Institute in Bhuj town of Kutch were reportedly forced to strip to “prove” they were not menstruating.
It was informed that 68 undergraduate girls were marched through the college into the restroom and forced to remove their undergarments to prove that they were not menstruating.
The incident in question took place after the manager/head of the hostel complained to the principal that some of the girls had been violating their religious norms, especially for menstruating females. The Petition before the Hon’ble HC was moved seeking direction for a law to specially deal with the exclusionary practice against women based on their menstrual status.
It was submitted before the Hon’ble HC that the practice which is being followed and encouraged of exclusion of women based on their menstrual status is violative of human, legal and fundamental rights of women, more particularly, those as protected under Articles 14, 15, 17, 19, and 21 respectively of the Indian Constitution.
At the outset, the Hon’ble Court observed, “Menstruation has been stigmatized in our society. This stigma has built up due to the traditional beliefs in the impurity of menstruating women and our unwillingness to discuss it normally.”
The Hon’ble Court noted that many girls and women are subjected to restrictions in their everyday lives simply because they are menstruating. “Not entering the “puja” room is the major restriction among the urban girls whereas, not entering the kitchen is the main restriction among the rural girls during menstruation. Menstruating girls and women are also restricted from offering prayers and touching holy books”, observed the Court.
Additionally, the Hon’ble Court also opined that the fundamental basis for this myth is also the cultural beliefs of impurity linked with menstruation and that it is supposed that menstruating women are unhygienic and unclean and hence the food they prepare or handle can get contaminated. The Hon’ble Court, in its order, stated that a large number of girls in underdeveloped countries drop out of school when they begin menstruating (over 23% of girls in India).
“Such taboos about menstruation impact on girls’ and women’s emotional state, mentality and lifestyle and most importantly, health”, remarked the Court.
In this regard, the Hon’ble Court observed that the young girls often grow up with limited knowledge of menstruation because their mothers and other women shy away from discussing the issues with them and that there is also a need to spread awareness among the school teachers regarding menstruation.
Furthermore, the Hon’ble Court noted, “88% of women in India sometimes resort to using ashes, newspapers, dried leaves, and husk sand to aid absorption. Poor protection and inadequate washing facilities may increase vulnerability to infection, with the odor of menstrual blood putting girls at risk of being stigmatized.”
Further, the Court ‘proposed’ to issue the following directions for the State Government to follow:
Prohibit social exclusion of women based on their menstrual status at all places, be it private or public, religious or educational;
The State Government should spread awareness among its citizens through various mediums like putting up posters at public places, including it in the school curriculum, using audio-visual mediums like radio, entertainment/news channels, short films, etc;
Empowerment of women through education and increasing their role in decision-making can also aid in this regard;
Sensitization of health workers, Accredited Social Health Activists, and Anganwadi Workers regarding menstruation biology must also be done so that they can further disseminate this knowledge in the community and mobilize social support against busting menstruation-related myths. Adolescent Friendly Health Services Clinics must also have trained manpower to address these issues;
The State Government should hold campaigns, drives, involve NGOs and other private organizations to spread such awareness;
The State Government should include the issue of social exclusion of women based on their menstrual status in all existing campaigns/schemes that aims at menstrual hygiene;
The State Government should allocate necessary funds for the implementation of the directions; The State Government should prohibit all educational institutions, hostels, and living spaces for women-studying working and others, private or public, by whatever name called, from following social exclusion of women based on their menstrual status in any manner;
The State Government should undertake surprise checks, create an appropriate mechanism and take such other actions, steps as may be necessary to ensure its compliance including the imposition of an appropriate penalty against the erring institution.
Significantly, the Hon’ble Court clarified that the aforesaid is just a prima facie consideration of the issue in question. However, before issuing appropriate directions, as referred to above, the Hon’ble Court sought the response of the State Government as well as the Union of India.
Lastly, the Hon’ble court concluded, “We are conscious of the fact that we are dealing with a very delicate issue and, therefore, this Court must hear all the respondents and other stakeholders”.
Case: Nirjhari Mukul Sinha v. Union Of India
Citation: [R/Writ Petition (PIL) No. 38 of 2020]
Coram: Justice J. B. Pardiwala and Justice Ilesh J. Vora