There are two types of girls who live in our shelter home, one, who have been dropped off or brought to the shelter home while they were little girls, and the other, minor girls who are temporarily being brought to the home for a variety of reasons like- eloping with a partner but neither the partner nor the family wanting them back, both parents are dead and no family to look after them, girls who have complained to the police about feeling unsafe in their homes but with nowhere to go and such. While the first lot of girls have a strong sense of community and bonding with each other, we are also very well synced with how the organization functions. The girls who come in temporarily are the ones who have a stronger struggle to adjust to a changed, more authoritative environment, change in eating time and food quality, stricter discipline in daily routines, and such. However, the strongest daily struggles that most of us have are with the toilet habits of young girls who are brought to our shelter from a completely rural environment.
A number of girls who come from rural backgrounds in our shelter are used to open defecation, therefore flushing after relieving their selves is not what comes to them naturally. On our part, flushing is such a normal activity that we never even think of orienting any new girl to do it. This leads to smelly and soiled toilets, leading to fights over who did it and who will clean it.
One of the stranger things I saw recently in my bathroom was that the cemented ventilator seemed to be lined with what looked like folded sanitary napkins. Out of curiosity, I checked one closely and realized it was a used one stuck to the holes in the ventilator. Disgusted, I ran out screaming. I took a couple of minutes before calming down and thought to myself. This was a brand-new phenomenon.
Even if someone was pranking, they wouldn’t go to the extent of piling up used napkins to trouble others. So, I personally went to each and every new admission to our home and asked if they were on their periods. One of them confirmed and then I asked her about the napkins in the bathroom. What she shared after that confused my feelings about this entire episode. She shared that back at home, women use pieces of cloth to manage their flow and after each use, they stack it up in crevices of their wall or thatched roofs and then wash it after five days. She was just doing what she always did, but this time with a disposable napkin, that she did know was different.
It was then that it hit me, how while living in the city, we are so used to certain ways of doing things that it doesn’t strike us how another person might actually be clueless about the same. I had always had it in mind to let new girls know that they should dispose of their used napkins in the dustbin but it never occurred to me to ever ask them if they knew what a napkin or even a dustbin was.
I spent the next couple of hours in the room with the new girls, discussing our periods-related experiences and stories around practices, the funny logic that women around us shared about certain practices, and more. That evening was wonderful and honestly speaking, that exact second that I ran out disgusted over a stack of used napkins, I never thought I will be bonding with the same girls over it!