The inhumane order to strip menstruating class VI girls in a government middle school of Abohar to find out who was using a sanitary napkin following a blocked toilet has justly attracted the suspension of the two accused teachers. There is no doubt that such humiliation of the adolescent girls, even if their act may have caused the blockage, brooks no leniency. The strict action against the teachers is necessary to deter others from stooping to this shameful level. However, the case must not lull us into sitting back with the all-is-well feeling that normally comes when offenders are brought to book. Rather, it must serve to make us all sit up — as a society as well as a welfare state — from our stupor and take the bull by the horns.
For, underlying the disgraceful incident is a pulsating multi-layered problem that breeds mortifying conditions for girls over a perfectly normal and healthy physiological condition. It’s high time the onion is peeled off, layer by layer. Firstly, eschew the taboo surrounding the discussion of the topic of periods, spurning any stories spun of it making women dirty or impure. The change in mindset has to start at home and be reinforced in school, with stress on menstrual hygiene and sanitation. It’s here that the government’s role as infrastructure provider assumes importance. The Modi regime does go about claiming success in its toilet-in-every-home programme, but if taps are running dry, what use is it? Also essential is the availability of affordable sanitary napkins in schools and colleges. Of course, bins in restrooms are basic to cleanliness.
The Abohar incident happened only because such a conducive atmosphere was missing. If we let the stripping of our young girls pass off and not strive to ensure that the system which provoked such behaviour is replaced by an inclusive, woman-empowering one, indeed, that would be more shameful than the incident itself. And, we would continue to lament how adolescent girls are absenting themselves from school during the menses days and even dropping out from school