Recently, at a state-run boarding school in Nashik, Maharashtra, a twelfth-grade tribal girl student alleged that her teacher restricted girls from planting trees during menstruation because that would burn the saplings. The school has over 500 girl students and a statement like this not only disrupts their educational growth but also poses a serious threat to the school’s reputation.
It was reported that during a plantation drive, the teacher allegedly stopped the complainant and several other girls in the school from planting saplings. He instructed them to stay away from the saplings that were planted the previous year since they supposedly failed to grow because of menstruation, in his observations. The complainant, a student from the science department, who is a tribal inmate at the boarding school, claims that this took place unchecked during school hours, within the school premises.
She took help from the Nashik district secretary Bhagwan Madhe to whom she initially reported her complaint. He said that the girl could not complain about the teacher before because the concerned teacher was her class teacher and she feared the authority he held over her. He had also threatened her that 80 percent of her assessment marks could be controlled by the school, which prevented her from taking any legal action.
Mr. Madhe spoke to the additional commissioner of Nashik Mr. Sandeep Golait over the phone, who then visited the Adivasi Vikas Bhavan with the girl soon after and issued a memorandum against the concerned teacher. This probed the Tribal Development Department (TDD) to take up the cause and order an inquiry into the matter.
Varsha Meena, the TDD project officer and district additional collector of Nashik, confirmed that the complaint was received. She met the girl and asked her about the problems she was facing when this information was revealed. Additional Commissioner Mr. Golait said that further inquiries shall be made and statements from the class teacher, principal, and superintendent shall be collected.
It was also revealed by Mr. Madhe that the alleged teacher had a habit of taunting the complainant and other girls. He also mentioned that the girl students had other complaints regarding the unavailability of warm bathing water or mattresses that they could use to sleep. Additionally, the school has also been revealed to make Urine Pregnancy Test (UPT) during admissions compulsory with the students having to bear all the charges of the process. There is no rule as such that this procedure must be conducted in schools, and this is yet another utterly shocking norm these young girls have to undergo.
This incident testifies how superstition and gender bias remain unchecked in our society even today. Almost every medical site and professional has confirmed that there is no scientific proof that plants burn because of their proximity or contact with menstruating individuals. The continued normalisation of such superstitions actively prevents girls and other menstruators from participating in activities that male students are given access to.
In allowing menstrual superstitions within schools, teachers and the authorities must not only be held responsible for imparting incorrect information, but also for asserting their patriarchal beliefs to control the experiences of young girls and menstruators. Practicing such archaic and baseless period myths is just another tool to control and gatekeep women and gender minorities.
It is also implied from this particular incident that the girls of the institution have had to undergo similar experiences in the past too. It only makes us wonder how many more educational institutions in the country shield such events and allow them to exist under the guise of customs and beliefs.
After the complaint was made by the girl in this case, students from other schools in Nashik also reported similar experiences. Displeasure was expressed by several organisations like the Women’s Commission, demanding strict action against the alleged teacher.
It is almost always quite difficult for the victims to complain about such incidents because they fear consequences from the authorities. There is also a fear of judgment that prevents them from reporting institutional offenses by teachers even to their parents. As a result, incidents like these often continue for a long time before being finally reported.
Experiences such as these leave behind traumatic and painful memories for many young girls. It should be taken into account that the humiliation young menstruators face through such incidents does not just strike a blow to their self-image, but also makes them feel utterly disrespectful of their own bodies.
Male teachers leaving such imprints on young minds also negatively impact all students, including boys by reinforcing gender stereotypes and toxic masculinity. Instead of inspirational exposure, all that students receive in such circumstances is sub-par education bound with superstitions.
It is high time that myths about periods are busted and institutions are held responsible for reinforcing them. The introduction of sex and sexuality education not just for students but also for teachers in every school and college is non-negotiable to make sure that we address themes like puberty, sexuality, menstrual health, and mental health more holistically. Besides this, regular counseling sessions should be conducted for both teachers and students to align them to progressive thought and affirmative action.
Featured Image Source: The Swaddle