‘Forced’ is such a strong word that it changes the meaning of everything it is added to. Feed, add force to it and it becomes a torture technique. Endurance, add forced to it and it becomes what?
Oddly, Ramadan is becoming a reminder of forced endurance for me. The principle of the practice of fasting is to teach one virtues of patience but what happens instead of being patient, you muffle with space of others? Such subduing happens only when Ramadan is looked at from a singular perspective and in this case, from a male perspective. And again, it is not only Ramadan, almost everything that concerns religion or society is looked at from a male perspective. Islam has made fasting compulsory, something every Muslim has to do, with a very few exemptions. Amongst these few exemptions, some pertain to women who are menstruating, breast feeding mothers or pregnant women. But the societal structures deliberately overlook all these women, as if they don’t exist.
When I first started fasting regularly, I would be forced by others in the family to wake for Sehri, the predawn meal, even when I was menstruating lest the male members would sense that I was menstruating. I would then have to fake fast and say prayers before the elder males in the family. I followed the sequence for a long time. Till I realized that these men were adults and were supposed to know about menstruation, if not by virtue of their education, by means of religion at least. Many of the women I know did the same and still do the same. I can’t figure appropriate reason for the practice but when I asked my mother why I was being asked to wake for sehri and fake fast even when i wasn’t, she said it was shameful to give everyone a hint about your periods. I experience it, my mother did and every woman does. Yet there is more shame in discussing it than the act of a man passing sexually explicit comments on a roadside.
The practice of trying to bury this little uncomfortable conversation at home in turn buries a women in public.
Religion never preached fake fasting while one is menstruating but we ourselves created this impression of shame around menstruation that now we have to hide it even when it is as natural as respiration.
A few days back, I noticed how major eateries across the city were closed and even the cafeteria in University of Kashmir. I called up one of the restaurant owners to ask about the reason for being shut and I wasn’t surprised to know that his reasons were based on economic concerns. The owner said that he didn’t see many customers turn up during day and hence opened up for evenings alone. I didn’t question his decision or his judgment but there he was, he had just missed a customer and so had the university cafeteria.
This sort of overlooking happens not only in Ramadan. I remember sitting with a couple of my female friends in a cafe in the city center when we were asked to leave because it was Friday prayer time. For me, the move was expected but for my other friends who were non-locals, it was offensive. While men went to pray, was there any mosque nearby we could go for prayers? No. So we were left with no where to go and in the end settled on a footpath completing our reports.
The question here is not about mensuration but the fact that structures from top to below have been designed and are functioning in a way that makes women feel excluded. Living with these undercurrents of exclusion from the beginning, it becomes hard to see through maligning character of the structures.
This forced endurance is hurting not just women. The shut cafe during Ramadan also denied existence of a religious mix which is more prominent in the summer season due to tourist inflow. What exists at the top is the point of view of a man who views everything in andro-centric and homogeneous way. And this trickles down to all other members of society, including women who then feel ashamed to talk through their bodily phenomena. It starts at home, perpetuates through societal structures and the circle completes when women succumb to compliance and endure what is brought upon them.
Featured Image Credit: Shepard Fairey