“Roll no 5,” the teacher calls out!
The front row giggles.
Out comes the red pen.
“5 days in a row,” the teacher patronises.
“But teacher, she has already left the school,” says another girl.
For the longest time, this conversation was a part of the class of the local school in the Jangalmahal tribal village of Birbhum district. Do you know why? Because most girls who hit puberty with their first menstrual cycle drop out of school.
Shockingly, over 113 girls in Bahamoni’s village are school dropouts.
Bahamoni is a tribal girl from Jangalmahal, who is fighting to break decades-old taboos about menstruation.
A study conducted by A C Nielsen titled ‘Sanitary Protection: Every woman’s health right’, says only 12% of India’s 355 million menstruating women use sanitary napkins. And over 23% of adolescent girls in the age-group 12 to 18 years drop out of school after they begin menstruating, due to inadequate menstrual protection and hygiene practices.
And even those who continue to study in schools absent themselves for an average of five days a month.
Bahamoni wants to change that in her village. The beauty of her fight is that the first year BA student at Rajnagar college doesn’t need words to make her vision known.
The hearing-impaired student met the District Magistrate, where she signed to him, asking him for a sanitary napkin vending machine to be installed at Rajnagar Block Hospital.
Interacting with the Times of India, Bahamoni signed, “We are fighting against prejudice.”
Today, her village is home to 132 families. And she says they are striving to move ahead with times. While they have tackled the menace of child marriage successfully, the next step is to create awareness about menstrual health and hygiene believes Bahamoni.
Her actions have been lauded by a local NGO who are working in the menstrual hygiene sector in the tribal areas.
“Bahamoni has done a commendable job in this respect,” said Jayanta Chowdhury, the spokesperson for the NGO.
Slowly and steadily, the local administration through its menstrual hygiene educational programme is convincing girls to go back to school. Of 113, almost nine girls returned to school.
Nine might seem like a small number, but it is definitely a start!