Kochi is hosting Aarpo Arthavam, which uses art as a tool to celebrate menstruation.
Aarpo Arthavam (Hurray Menses)! Kerala is buzzing with this slogan. Yes, a group of youngsters is getting ready to celebrate menstruation — a condition that is still considered as taboo by a larger part of society — at Marine Drive, Kochi, on January 12 and 13. They use art as their means to pass this message, hence ‘Art’havam. Their aim is to abolish stigmas surrounding menstruation, and educate society about it.
Many who read this might be wondering about the need of such a festival. A movement like Aarpo Arthavam is important because, majority in our society still sees menstruating women as impure. For a girl, her life changes with menstruation. The way she is treated begins to change. She is told that menstruation is something to be hushed about and, advised to be a ‘woman’. A set of rules is imposed on her, and she is asked to stay away from religious places when she is on her periods. In certain cultures, she is even isolated by her family during those days putiing her security at risk. There have been incidents where women died during menstrual exile.
In Kerala, the discussion gained momentum with the Supreme Court verdict allowing women to enter the Sabarimala temple. Kerala witnessed a section of people coming out up in arms against it.
“Though we knew that gender inequality exists to some extent, this incident showed its severity. Despite SC’s verdict, a group of people stood against women belonging to menstruating age entering the temple. The whole episode showed us the state of women in Kerala. We realised it’s high time we reacted. Thus born Aarpo Arthavam,” says advocate Maya Krishnan, its general convener. “As we delved deep into the subject, we understood that menstruation is a taboo in almost all religions. That is discrimination and violation of the constitutional rights. We began to discuss it by organising camps on campuses and going out onto the streets, and now Aarpo Arthavam.”
As the first step, this women’s movement organised a curtain raiser programme in last November at Vanchi Square in Kochi, where those who faced the wrath of Sangh Parivar for declaring their stance on Sabarimala issue came together to discuss menstruation. At the venue, they hoisted a statue which had wings made of sanitary napkins. There were cultural events, too.
This time, they have bigger plans. Preparations are in full swing for the two-day fest. Besides the cultural events, there will be Hurray Menses Rally followed by performances of bands such as Casteless Collective and Oorali, and singer Kovan. Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan, popular director Pa. Ranjith and other prominent persons will address the gathering at the venue. There will also be an exhibition with scientific evidence curated by Ajith Kumar of Directorate of Women and Child Development about menstruating body. They are also conducting an ARThavam campus camp where young minds will be moulded with the help of art. Popular artistes such as Martin of Oorali are working with the students. The students will do a moving theatre performance in the rally to be held at 3 pm on January 12.
In fact, members of the group have been visiting campuses for some time. “So far, we have visited five campuses,” says Anjala Sherin, convener of campus committee. It was not easy. On some campuses, the management was not willing to let them discuss this. But, Anjala says, students were open to discussion. “Initially, they were reluctant, especially when men talked about menstruation. However, they began to share their experiences as sessions progressed,” she says, adding that the stigma is still alive. “People find it difficult to utter the word arthavam. When we distribute pamphlets on streets, they read the first word and mumble the second.
However, she believes that the lessons they impart with the help of art will change the perspective of, at least, future generations. She cites Kannaki, a UKG student who inaugurated the campus session singing a song and shouting the slogan Aarpo Arthavam, as an instance. “She has been a part of the movement since its inception. She takes part in all activities such as making Panjami Paava, which represents the girl Panchami whom social reformer Ayyankali admitted in a school. She is here because she is aware of the movement’s importance,” adds Anjala, who came to know about the move from her circle. “I came to know more about it when I attended the first meeting. I hail from the Muslim community where menstruation is linked to rituals. So, it has never been a grave issue. I started thinking about its discriminative side after joining the movement,” says Anjala.
According to Sreelakshmi Arackkal, a teacher, the worst part is women thinking themselves as impure. “When the Sabarimala issue came, we saw women coming out saying that they are impure. It is important to make sure that our coming generations do not say that. Hence I put aside all my works and came here,” she says. Like Anjala says, a day should come where nobody hesitates to say ‘arthavam’!