In locked down Kashmir, women have to manage without sanitary pads

In most cases, they have not been able to access the stores and are thus forced to use old cloth and cotton. They are vulnerable to several diseases, ranging from skin irritation to cervical cancer

In locked down Kashmir, women have to manage without sanitary pads

Gulzar Bhat

On September 14, 22-year-old Rizwana rushed to her friend's house, located a few doors down the dirt lane at Panzith Wanpora, a quaint village in Qazigund, some 60 kms south of Srinagar. As soon as her friend answered the door, Rizwana, almost winded out, asked her for sanitary pads.

"She took a pack out of her steel cabinet, wrapped it in an old newspaper and handed it over to me," said Rizwana. Due to the lockdown in Kashmir, she was unable to buy the pads.

The Valley has been virtually shut since August 5 when the Government of India did away with the special status of Jammu and Kashmir and split the state into two Union Territories - Jammu and Kashmir, and Ladakh.

In Kashmir’s conservative society, it is considered a taboo to talk about the menstruation or purchase sanitary pads openly. Any discussion about the issue takes place in closed and women-only groups.

Ghazala Mustafa, a resident of Anantnag town, said that she was forced to use old cloth as she or her mother could not venture out of their house to buy the pads.

In neighbouring Kulgam district, Saima Farooq, a post-graduate student at a local university, attempted to buy the pads repeatedly but failed. Although many a times she found a pharmacy half open at the corner of her street functioning, she failed to buy the product. "I almost reached the shop thrice but I could not buy the pads as a CRPF man was always standing there,” Saima said.

Saima's middle-aged mother who encouraged her to speak to this reporter said that they could not buy the products from any other shop in the main market due to the continuous strike and restrictions.

"Only a few shops half-open their shutters in the main market in the evening but it is always a dicey affair to go there. You don't know when forces will appear and clashes will break out," she added.

Women, particularly in rural areas of the Valley, buy sanitary pads from a select few stores. Many women said that they could not find their specific shops open, causing tremendous inconvenience to them.

"I always go to town and buy them from a particular shop. During the past one month, I have not been able to visit the place even once," said Rubia who lives in a village barely six kms from Pulwama town. With their faces covered with chequered scarves, a group of young college-going girls echoed the same view.

Masarat Jan, a Valley-based doctor, said that women use old clothes and cotton to manage the situation during such crisis which ultimately takes a toll on their health. She said that unhygienic menstrual management could make women vulnerable to many diseases.

"Anything from skin irritation to cervical cancer is possible," she said.

A government official, who declined to be identified in this report, expectedly said he did not feel that there was any paucity of sanitary pads in Kashmir. He, however, conceded that some women may not have been able to access the stores.

Sehrish Asghar, an IAS officer in Jammu and Kashmir, first spurred a debate about menstrual health in July this year. She made arrangements to install sanitary pad dispensers in all girls' higher secondary schools and colleges in Budgam district where she was posted as Deputy Commissioner.

(All names have been changed)

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