Why all faiths abhor menstruating women

Last Updated 25 February 2020, 19:26 IST

Recently, ‘Swami’ Krishnaswarupdas, belonging to the Bhuj Mandir Swaminarayan Sect in Gujarat, raked up a controversy when a video was exposed by the media in which he said that menstruating women who cook food for their husbands are reborn as 'kutri ' (bitches) while men who consume food cooked by women during periods are reborn as 'balad ' (ox). The saddest and most shocking outcome of this highly patriarchal, prejudicial and pejorative statement is that at least 20,000 followers of the Swaminarayan Sect, Bhuj, supported the ‘swami’!

Now, the question is, why all but one (Sikhism) man-made organised religions are so rabidly against menstruating women? The Sabarimala issue -- whether a menstruating woman can visit the temple or not -- is still unresolved.

Female sociologists Irawati Karve, the daughter-in-law of Maharshi Dhondo Keshav Karve, and Meera Kosambi, the granddaughter of Acharya Dharmanand Damodar Kosambi, studied the phenomenon of menstruation and religion (especially Hinduism, as both were Brahmins) and observed that men created, rather concocted, a ‘bloody' (literally as well as metaphorically) lie with a view to perpetuating the chauvinistic idea of female subjugation through the prism of religion and with the support of priests and clergy of the faiths they belonged to.

The scriptural references and blatant support consolidated this erroneous belief because all man-made religions were founded by men and the scriptures were also written by them. Women never had a say in the formation of a faith. So, all rules, regulations, customs, rituals, superstitions, dogmas and shibboleths were laid down by primitive men, who had an atavistic fear of blood and an unexplained disgust of female blood (refer to 'The Position of Woman in Primitive Society: A Study of the Matriarchy' by Hartley C Gasquoine).

Blood, whether of a man or a woman, outside the human body was considered impure. The primitive cults, prior to religions, looked down upon blood as something impure. This explains why in Zoroastrianism, not only menstruating women but even Zoroastrian priests, who have bleeding sores, are held to be impure. Blood, not menstruation, is seen as the source of impurity.

Oblivious to the human body, especially to the female anatomy, anything ostensibly abrupt was seen as a curse from heaven or an anomaly caused by disruptive evil forces. To our primitive ancestors, menstruating women appeared to be facing some kind of punishment at regular intervals for their transgressions!

To quote an evolutionary biologist, “The rudimentary brains of early humans thought that women were being divinely punished by bleeding for a few days!” Our unevolved, cave-dwelling ancestors believed that women were objects of divine punishment. That belief system of ancient cults seeped into marginally 'evolved' religions made by men. The asinine and completely unscientific thinking of the prehistoric times didn't change. It got strengthened, stipulated and segued into the canonical belief systems of all organised faiths, whether it's Islam, Christianity, Judaism, Hinduism, Buddhism or Jainism.

One sample from Judaism, the earliest of the three Semitic faiths, provided by Lorenzo Jensen is enough to give you the idea how it could be in other religions, invented for men by men.

Of all religions, Judaism is perhaps the harshest toward Aunt Flo. For roughly two weeks out of every month, a woman is considered niddah (impure) due to her natural menstrual cycle. The niddah phase begins at the first drop of menstrual blood and continues for a full week after menstruation is over. At the end of that week, she undergoes an elaborate ritual bath known as the mikveh. Upon completing the mikveh, she is to approach the temple with a sacrifice in hand—usually a pair of doves—hoping that the rabbi accepts her as clean once more.

The same type of abominable scriptural treatment is meted out to all menstruating women of all faiths. The saddest irony is that women themselves have begun to believe that they are impure during those days. They don't touch their scriptures even on the sly, lest divine wrath should descend on them!

A belief hammered deep down into your psyche makes you a slave to it. That is what has happened in the case of menstruation. A hoary-old belief of impurity was drilled into the female psyche, and they began to believe in its perceived and presupposed veracity.

Moreover, women have always been susceptible to religious dogma and this vulnerability made them accept the edicts of men. They resigned themselves to their sanguinary fate, to quote the first of the feminists, Mary Wollstonecraft. They began to believe that they were defiled and desecrated by the devil during their periods. And a defiled woman cannot be deified, at least during her menses.

The only saving grace comes in the form of Sikhism. According to Sikhism’s founder Guru Nanak, a mother’s blood is necessary for human life and is therefore sacred, rather than impure. For this fact alone, Sikhism is the most woman-friendly of all the world’s patriarchal religions.

That we still believe in such regressive beliefs is a sign that humans haven't evolved much from their troglodyte past.

(Published 25 February 2020, 17:35 IST)

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