Crimson: The Online Platform Challenging the Menstrual Taboo for Women of India

We spoke with Tanya Gohil to learn about her new venture, Crimson, which is enabling women of India to feel empowered by their period rather than ashamed. Born out of desire to challenge traditional Indian connotations of a female cycle as ‘impure’, Crimson aims to break through the taboo of menstruation and, in turn, encourage women to feel ‘free to bleed’. Through text and image online, and with hopes to release a book in the future, Crimson educates viewers on the cultural association of periods in India with hope to liberate women today, better the availability of sanitary products in India and therefore increase the rate of Indian girls attending school while on their period.

 

 

Tell us a bit about yourself, where are you from? What inspired you to be active in creating platforms for women? What experiences have you had that have led to create Crimson?
I’ve long since been immersed in women’s rights. What has always struck me the most is the plight of women in developing countries. Being of Indian origin, I’ve spent a lot of time in rural India, living and working amongst young girls and women, whose lives are extremely different from our own in the West. India has a long history of menstrual taboo – generations upon generations of the idea that bleeding is ‘dirty’. Today, rural women are still inclined to use ash, cow dung and dried leaves as the cheapest and most absorbent materials they can access during menstruation. Custom dictates that they are banished to thatched huts on the edge of their village, often alone, and due to bleeding, miss an average of 50 days of school per year.

 

Though I was born and brought up in London, this patriarchal belief system even found itself permeating through my upbringing. The elder women in my family would tell me that I wasn’t allowed in the Temple whilst bleeding because it was ‘impure’. I’d always challenge this, but no one could give me any real reasons. I was just told not to, and this was something to be blindly accepted. What was significant about this was that it was the women in my family helping to perpetuate this cycle. Here in London, I’m a confident vocal woman who can choose what traditions I want to enrich my life with, and similarly what cultural baggage I want to shun and reject. Many other women don’t have this choice, and this is the very reason why I started Crimson.

 

This week saw the Hindu festival of Raksha Bandhan, or Rakhi, celebrated in many parts of the Indian subcontinent, notably India and Nepal. Raksha bandhan literally means “bond of protection”. It is observed on the full moon day of August, and marked by the tying of a sacred thread (Rakhi). The festival celebrates the love and duty between brothers and sisters. On Raksha Bandhan, a sister ties the sacred thread on her brother’s wrist with a prayer for his prosperity and happiness. As years have passed, many Indian women have chosen to blindly participate in this ritual, thinking no more than of tradition. But today we pose the question, should we be perpetuating such gender hierarchies? Is there a need for today’s women to redefine Raksha Bandhan? Tell us what you think #RakshaBandhan #FeministRakhi @feminisminindia @indian.feminism

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What is the concept behind Crimson?
The wave of modern-day feminism that has been sweeping the world is of course liberating. So many women are working to change landscapes and so many women are more conscious and awake than ever. The plight of period stigma is growing, from NGOs providing sustainable sanitary solutions in small rural villages, to better education, and artists using their blood as a form of expression. I was particularly inspired by the likes of Rupi Kaur and Kiran Gandhi, and the conversations they’ve started through their empowering and ‘radical’ acts of acceptance of the female body. The words ‘Free To Bleed’ feel entirely apt and an integral part of the movement. It was clear to me that art would be my medium of choice. I find minimal and watercolour art so gentle and beautiful, and with this message, I feel it becomes a lot more powerful.

 

What is the meaning of the name?
The name ‘Crimson’ is a reference to the rich deep hue that is synonymous with bleeding. I think that statements don’t always have to be strident in order to make an impact. For me, ‘Crimson’ is soft, quiet and poetic but a statement nonetheless.

 

“So, in a radical act to prioritise my own comfort, I decided to bleed freely and run”. – – Her decision to go without a tampon — and let her menstrual blood flow freely — garnered international attention. – – “I knew it would be a radical move. I knew it was combatting stigma and my own shame in my own right. But, I didn’t know how powerful it would be,” – – “It was so empowering. It wasn’t uncomfortable at all.” – – Her decision to ‘free bleed’ also drew criticism; she was labelled ‘disgusting’, ‘unladylike’ and ‘unsanitary’. – – This reaction taught us two things: that period stigma runs deep and that we have a lot of work to do as a society to build together a world that is more loving and inclusive of women’s bodies.” – – @madamegandhi on bleeding freely #FreeToBleed

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What are your hopes for the future of Crimson and how do you aim to grow?
The platform is in it’s very initial stages, and currently I’m trying to spread the awareness that period shame still runs very deep, and still continues to ripple across both generations and borders. I want to use the platform to bring consciousness to more and more women and gather momentum in a very natural way. The end goal will be the curation of a book compiled of gentle feminist art as well as the truths that some women still face today. Profits raised from sales of the book will contribute towards NGOs working very passionately to create actual change.
 

How can people be more involved / educated to support the cause?
Read, read, read! Knowledge is power and women are a worldwide community. It’s integral to stay informed about the injustices we face in all four corners of the world. It’s very easy to become engrossed in our days, but ultimately, what is more rewarding than fighting for change and equality? Social activist Kiese Laymon said ‘If we are not advocating for the women whose realities do not look like our own, then we are unequivocally a part of the problem’ and for me, this has never rang more true.