My informant, SV, is a recent graduate with a Master’s from the University of Southern California. He is 25, was born in Hyderabad, Telangana, India, and moved to the United States to attend a graduate program at USC. Post-graduation he remains in Los Angeles hunting for a job.
My informant is my roommate and a close friend of mine. I asked him if he could share some Indian traditions, customs, or folklore with me.
SV: “So… One of the kind of, er, traditions in India… are like women are considered impure when they’re doing their periods. So they’re not allowed to a lot of places, or they’re not, for example, like temples or a lot of holy places, or they’re not allowed in the kitchen and to cook food. So this is a tradition that is probably more prevalent in more rural areas which isn’t as prevalent in other areas where people are progressive and aren’t as strict with these rules but this, uhm, used to be a thing maybe in older generations where women would have their, like I guess rights limited when they’re on their periods and they have limited things that they can do and they’re sort of oppressed in some sense. Another thing through this is also the fact that sort of like talking about it is considered taboo. Like I guess when I was younger I didn’t realize it but then later when I got older I understood that like, because my mom’s on her period, that’s why she’s missing temple. Because when I was younger I would just think that she was busy or she was tired. And it didn’t make sense to me when I did understand it, because I thought it, to me, was just a normal bodily function, so uhm… I didn’t quite understand it but trying to talk to her about it wasn’t something she was comfortable with. Same at school, it’s considered very taboo to sort of like, openly talk about it, so for example sometimes at school a girl might be on her period, and she forgot her pad, so like she’d borrow it from a friend, and it’s sort of like they’re passing drugs or something it’s like… it’s so secretive. They’d cover it up with newspaper or with a plastic bag because it’s something that for some reason is considered embarrassing.”
SV: “It’s a normal human function, right? So I guess I still find it odd they treat it this way, but I guess that’s just how it is.”
Menstrual taboos are fairly universal, seen in a wide range of cultures throughout the ages and even up to this day. In this case, the informant notes that menstruating women are seen as impure, hence they are not allowed to cook food or be in the kitchen, as they are most likely considered to be contaminating the food by being in it’s presence or by handling it. Superstition often plays a role in the establishment taboos, in this case, the actual possibility of the women contaminating the food is negligible, yet the taboo lives on due to the superstition that the menstrual blood will somehow manage to contaminate the food and the kitchen, as well as the temple, in the case of this taboo.