68 female college students living in a hostel in the Indian state of Gujarat have been forced by teachers to strip down to their underwear in order to prove they were not menstruating.
The young women were pulled from their classes and taken one by one to the bathrooms and asked to remove their briefs, allowing female teachers to inspect them for menstrual blood.
The girls are undergraduate students at Shree Sahajanand Girls Institute. The school is run by the highly influential and conservative Hindu religious group, the Swaminarayan sect.
The school claims that a hostel official complained that the girls were not following the strict and often discriminatory protocol that women in India are expected to adhere to when menstruating. Many individuals of the Hindu faith believe that women should not enter temples, enter the kitchen, touch others or food meant for the group while on their period. That makes day to day life pretty impossible for an Indian girl on her period, right? They are also expected to eat meals away from others and sit up the back of classrooms.
One of the students claims that the hostel maintains a register in which students are meant to record their names when they are menstruating, allowing members of staff to identify and isolate them. The complaint was that no one had entered their name in the register for 2 months, meaning staff had no idea who was or wasn’t on their period on any given day.
The next day the girls were put through what they later called ‘mental torture’ and were ‘traumatised’ after being forced to strip by the hostel officials and the college principal.
The father of one of the girls involved in the incident said that the girls were in a state of shock and that a group of them came to him crying, with a group of students holding a protest against the staff that ‘humiliated’ them. Some students have said they are now under pressure from college officials to downplay the incident and gagged from talking to any media.
The college trustee has ordered an investigation into the incident, stating that anyone found guilty of wrongdoing by the students will be prosecuted. The college trustee went on to call the situation “unfortunate”, a gross understatement.
However, Darshana Dholakia, vice-chancellor of the college has put the onus on the female students in a classic case of victim-blaming, saying that they had broken the rules by not updating the register when they had their periods.
This is far from the first time women and girls have been shamed due to India’s culture of extreme menstruation taboo. Three years ago, 70 female students in Northern India were stripped naked after a teacher found blood on a bathroom door. In India, women and girls are often considered impure when on their period and are shunned from public life and discriminated against as a result. Hope is being found in small pockets of urban India where educated women are fighting back against these repressive and antiquated beliefs and teaching the younger generation that menstruation is merely a function of the human body.
Words by Alicia Franceschini