The principal, a hostel rector and a peon of the Shree Sahajanand Girls Institute in Bhuj have been arrested on the charge of ‘outraging the modesty of a woman’ after 66 girl students were made to undress on Feb 11 to prove they were not menstruating after a blood-soaked sanitary napkin was found outside a hostel toilet.
The 19-year-old, who was among them, is a B.Com student from Anjar in Kutch, and came to the all-girls institute, managed a trust linked to the Shree Swaminarayan Mandir, when in Class 1. The student, who did not want to be identified, hopes to become a chartered accountant
1. Can you describe what happened?
The principal abused us for breaking rules (menstruating students are isolated and kept away from the common dining hall as well as prayer areas) and threatened to rusticate us if we did not agree to the inspection. We were made to go into the washroom and strip so that the peon could check us… We have never had such an incident before, though now I think we should have objected earlier to records being kept of menstrual cycles of all hostel girls (an institute official, Laxman Shiyani, said he was not aware of such a record)…
2. Given a choice, would you have opted for this institute?
My family cannot afford to send me to a better college. They do not want me to live far either (Anjar is about 40 km away), or study in a co-ed. Many families here feel the same. It is mandatory for students above Class 8 to stay at the hostel… When I joined, I was uncomfortable about discussing my menstrual cycle with anyone. The whole attention of the administration appeared to be on when you menstruate… And then everyone knew you were having your periods because you were moved to a room in the basement and served food separately. The authorities keep telling us how we must stay away from things when ‘impure’. Over time, we came to accept it as normal.
3. Did any women staffers offer support after the episode?
None. The trustees are men and they refused to listen when we went to complain. Instead, they accused us of forcing them to take the drastic step. We are constantly told we do not respect their religious beliefs, especially those of us who do not belong to the Swaminarayan sect.
4. How did your and your friends’ families react?
They feel this is better than girls getting into relationships with boys. A family urged my parents to not join the protest saying the institution was run by women and the checking too had been done by women, and therefore, ‘it is not such a big issue’… I admit I am not sure if they are completely wrong either. At home too women are not allowed to visit temples or touch prayer articles when having their periods…
5. Do you want to leave?
I want to complete my graduation. At least my family is not forcing me to get married and has given me the freedom to study, if with conditions. It is up to me now to be bold and strong enough to break such taboos later.
📣 The Indian Express is now on Telegram. Click here to join our channel (@indianexpress) and stay updated with the latest headlines