Google Maps, our friend and foe, got us lost in an alley before we found the Salaam Baalak Trust building. The red brick building was much easier to find last time, but luck was not in our favour today. It stood cheerier than similarly tiered houses in the seemingly deserted neighbourhood. It is the only NGO we can safely say has an aesthetic – red brick warmth interwoven with black wrought iron. But I speak for all of us when I say we associate it with a tragic story one of the girls narrated to us before we left.
Tara’s favourite – Lakshmi (you may remember her from our post on the survey we conducted here) held her hand the moment we entered the gate and led us inside. Since too many girls at one talk inhibited the interactive aspect of our sessions, we decided to give the talk to only one group of fifteen girls. We sat them down in a circle and then dispersed ourselves in the midst of them. Although all the girls didn’t actively participating, we were satisfied with a general note of comfort and receptiveness from our audience.
Tara and Pranavi (with my occasional inputs) took over and explained the biology behind periods. Unbeknown to us, a few girls had already learnt the functions of the various organs of the female reproductive system. This gave birth (pun intended) to an interesting conversation about pregnancy- which was a slight detour from the standard menses talk. It also prompted our first sex-ed talk which he hadn’t really incorporated into the session before. We have to admit, it was fun to watch the girls giggle as Tara wiggled her finger to depict a sperm.
Ritika and Pranavi taught them our Five Period Points (i.e. five steps/rules of periods and what to and not to do during your period.) It was a relief to hear all the girls were using pads.
Tara and I then dived into the heavier part of our session: the taboos. Being acutely aware that the girls in front of us come from very different backgrounds and are raised with different mindsets, we had to make sure that what we preached would not get them into trouble here. Upon asking them why they think girls aren’t allowed to go to the temple while menstruating, a couple aggressively piped up with retaliation to the common practice. But it was important to remember that these girls were raised in a home and not a household. Their customs were significantly different so, if they knew about most of these taboos, it was because they had heard about them from somewhere else.
That done and dusted, we went back to light conversations with the girls- asking what they were having for lunch and talking about the plans for the upcoming Diwali break. Once we announced the session over, they ran away for their lunch break. All, but one.
She looked much younger than the others but had a note of maturity when she spoke. She recalled the day she was returning from school, pad in hand. Four men sexually assaulted her having allegedly been triggered by her ‘act of defiance’. She went to the police who pointed the finger back at her and blamed her for what happened to her. Hundreds of girls in her village, both young and old were and still are being brought up with that very mindset and hearing her story reminded us how much road has yet to be covered.
Until next time,
Anshika from the REDefine Team