I remember being at an Annual Samelan in Malaysia, when during the Heart-to-Heart session, a girl sitting next to me asked me in a whisper if she was allowed to do chaur seva while she was on her period.
I was young(er), and dumbfounded that she had even asked me that. I had been brought up to not even consider that as a valid question... it sounded so ridiculous to me that such a natural process would stand in the way of me and my Guru. Still, thinking myself as immature and unqualified to answer her, I urged her to ask the panel, feeling certain that they would knock some sense into this little thing.
Imagine my distress when a lady from the panel answered quite the opposite: she advised the girl to avoid seva in the Darbar Sahib during her cycle. For the sake of cleanliness or hygiene or something equally preposterous.
That was just a little too much BS for my ‘immature’ spirit to handle, and I recall being possessed into springing up and saying quite forcefully that I completely disagreed with that statement.
I was certainly not as eloquent as Rupi Kaur when she said: “i bleed each month to help make humankind a possibility. my womb is home to the divine. a source of life for our species. whether i choose to create or not”. Wow.
Instead I ranted along the lines of equality (So Kyo Manda Aakhiay… “how can you call Her unclean, She who gives birth to Kings”) and empowerment (I may not have been able to spell that then but I knew what it meant). Frankly, if hygiene was the real concern, then no one in the Samelan would have been allowed anywhere near the Guru given the state of the toilets on the grounds.
I’m certain I must have sounded like a loudmouth on her way to becoming a rebellious teenager (oh how they must have pitied my mother!). But I hadn't spoken up because she was giving birth to any doubt in my mind. I was just determined to not let the other little girls in the room have any confused notions about their beauty and divinity, and certainly not from another woman (it seems a whole lot worse when it comes from our mothers, aunts and sisters, whom we look to for strength and validation).
If you think this was an issue of the past... how I wish it was. This question continues to be asked and answered at our camps to this very day. My measure of the issue has evolved from how it is answered to why have we made our girls so insecure that they feel the need to ask it at all?
I am at a loss… I feel so silly even having to justify these arguments in today’s day and age, and in this way of life where I seriously thought that we had dealt with these issues like some 500 years ago. I would like to think that this misguidance is an opinion of the few rather than the norm, but it is alarming how many of these ‘few’ have access to a microphone and a stage.
The Guru that they are trying to keep us away from, that Guru Nanak, is the same one who taught my parents to give me the same opportunities they would give my brother. In fact, I believe they've spent more time building my self-worth and confidence than they did his, knowing the battles I’d have to face in society on the days that lay ahead.
The loudmouthed (opinionated), rebellious (spirited) teenager is a little older today. If a little girl asks me that question now, I hope I will rant less and enlighten more :). In addition to equality and empowerment, I would also say that from a health perspective, hygiene is important and women should take care of themselves (every day of the month, not just a precious few), and approach anything (not just a prayer room) with a clean mind and body. Just as one would after rock-climbing, or making those (dreaded) round rotis, or climbing a tree, or playing in the mud with a pet dog.
I end my gloomy musing with one hopeful experience. Very recently, my young cousin led a gup-chup style session at a camp where she debunked period myths with a group of young girls. A few of us oldies were invited to share our wisdom (ahem!), but she was the conductor and I was so proud of her big-sista-tell-me-your-secrets style, and for breaking the boundaries for the girls to speak openly about their fears and experiences. It was chummy, funny, and most importantly, taboo-breaking. The message was that it was a big deal that wasn't really a big deal.
There is something special about this Red. It brings forth life.
And yet there is nothing special about this Red. It’s just another biological process. Like breathing.
Can’t stop a woman from bringing forth life or breathing, now, can we?
(Just in case you were hesitating, the answer is no, you cannot).
~ thanking dear Meerat for leading me to Rupi Kaur's resonant words, and my cousin for giving me hope!