Talking openly about menstruation is like uttering Voldemort’s name—eye’s get big, voices drop to a whisper and phrases such as, “you know what” get used in place of the name.
With all of this in mind, and using the energy stirred up by a viral hashtag from 2015, a group of medical students at the Calicut Medical College in the southern state of Kerala, India, set out to make a change.
In March they launched a contest called Haiku which encouraged their fellow students to submit short stories, poems and verse about menstruation with the requirement that it be under 140 characters.
“It’s a normal, biological thing, we shouldn’t be ashamed,” James Paul, a student at the college who came up with the contest idea, told NPR’s Chhavi Sachdev.
The submitted works touch on a variety of subjects. Sreya Salim, a third-year medical student who co-organized the contest, entered a piece that described how life changes for a girl once she gets her period:
“Womanhood” Her mom told
“Grown Up!!” Her sister explained.
“Responsibility” her teacher reminded
“CAGED” the society jeered.
A submission from Ajay Nimbalkar discussed the social traditions and taboos that surround menstruation:
At 14, she bled.
Was she prepared?
Used an old cloth from rag.
Labeled impure to touch her school bag.
Dying in bits
Was she happy to bleed?
“We meet a lot of women in the hospital wards who are suffering from infections, irregular cycles,” Salim told Sachdev. “When they have a problem, they rarely seek help. Doctors are available, medical care is not out of reach, but they’re afraid to talk about it.”