Posted by Ishani Nangia
After a long delay and a several hundred notices later Delhi University finished its admission process this year and with the whole media conversation revolving around the soaring cut-off percentages honestly that is not all that bothers me personally, but my juniors might have to encounter the tyranny of ‘merit’ in India.
Similar to several lakh other class-12th pass outs entering college spaces, I had my own share of realities and struggles to deal with. From being lost in the hallways to spending hours in front of the administration office to the crunching deadlines, trust me I have seen it all. And honestly, being the nerd I am, it would be a lie if I said I was not prepared for all of this. But one thing that was not on my checklist beforehand was my struggle as a menstruator in a University space.
Generally, when you try to imagine your college life one thing that certainly would not be a part of those visuals is a college washroom. I mean, under normal circumstances, how much a functional toilet really matters to us? The ‘n’ number of coachings I had for various entrance exams and interviews taught me all but none of them told me even a bit about living without a functional toilet in my dream college!
Two years back, before I started my college, the privilege to have an adequate washroom was so obvious that I might have never thought about the importance of a menstrual friendly environment. But it was all before I had to share a common washroom with a thousand other students or walk 2 kms. to a pharmacy to get a sanitary napkin because my college does not have a vending machine!
Suddenly a girls’ washroom changed from a place to chit-chat with my friends during recess to a living nightmare! The usual stain check in a girls’ washroom is still a common sight but things get to extreme when you have to hold the door when your friend uses the toilet, because the doors do not have a leash or at times use a toilet that has not been cleaned for days!
In a survey conducted in Delhi University on MHM conditions in various colleges, 68% respondents felt that the sanitation conditions in their college can be improved. 10.5% respondents claimed to have contacted UTIs by using unclean college washrooms. The survey was conducted by DUBleeds, a DU based campaign in collaboration with Youth Ki Awaaz.
These menstruation horror stories are a part of daily college lives but all in hush-hush voices..
Chestha, a final year student at Delhi University writes, “Many times, I have seen dogs collect used sanitary napkins from the girls’ washrooms and throw them in the college corridor after tearing them apart.” Similarly another student talked about having to use a broken mug instead of a running water jet.
I simply believe that you don’t have to be a bra-burning feminist to acknowledge that being a menstruator is challenging. Not only the physical discomfort is difficult to deal with, but the stigma associated with the subject dissuades us from having open dialogue on the subject or sharing our common struggles. What’s shocking is that the discourse does not even exist in University spaces which gives students the opportunity to find their voices unlike our strict schooling systems.
The same ignorance is carried on in the policyworks of the nation. Of all the policies and programmes carried by the central and state governments, none of those tackle the issue of MHM at the University levels. Most of the programmes are limited to the supply of sanitary napkins only, which is just one part of the problem. Availability of running water, period products and a safe environment to use and discard those products is also equally important.
The sheer ignorance and stigmatisation of the subject prevents the creation of healthy environments for menstruators who often hesitate from raising the subject, due to the fear of alienation. Afterall, it is too much of an ask to demand a clean toilet, right?
In reality, University spaces are the best places for the intervention for any such programmes. College going students have a sense of individuality but are still in the process of learning thus making any intervention for social change becomes much more effective.
Any real change is not possible until people start talking about the importance of MHM and a menstruator-friendly environment my fellow juniors will have to go through the same struggles as ours!
Ishani is an intersectional feminist currently running a campaign in Delhi University for improvement in MHM facilities. You can support her campaign by signing the petition here.
Featured Image Source: Feminism In India