- Breaking ground in building taboos!
Once every month, women menstruate. The act is commonly known as a period, also as monthly. It is this regular discharge of blood and mucosal tissue from the inner lining of the uterus through the vagina that epitomises the cycle of human life.
In Pakistan, one could be forgiven for assuming that this very basic of biological knowledge that is precursor to something as fundamental as human birth, could one day actually be aired as breaking news.
While many taboo points would be hit by this sudden news coverage, it is safe to say that this would actually be a breaking revelation for more men in the country than what is usually sold as breaking news.
If one were to spend considerable amount of time listing down the list of taboo subjects in the country, a significant chunk of them would centre around the woman’s body
The current context for this would be the censor board’s historic decision – perhaps in the history of film censorship – where it actually refused to watch a movie and in turn banned it from being released. Yes, members of the Punjab Film Censor Board did not watch the Bollywood film Padman before denying the film a clearance certificate.
The reason according to the members themselves: “any film with ‘taboo’ subjects such as menstruation will not be allowed screening in Pakistan.”
First things first, the salaries for the entire Punjab Film Censor Board should be deducted in accordance with the percentage that one movie denotes in their monthly task. Whatever the reason might have been to ban the movie, the board members are guilty of not doing their jobs by refusing to watch the movie altogether.
Hence, the ban that they have imposed on the film is absolutely unqualified, because anyone who has not even seen the movie is in no position to give any verdict over the clearance certificate for it. In fact, the government should issue show cause notices to the board members for refusing to perform the duty for which they have been hired.
Secondly, no one can disagree that menstruation is a taboo subject in Pakistan. This would be similar to women’s right to vote being taboo a century ago in the world – and still being the same in many parts of the country that the state is trying to merge with the mainstream. Similarly, women’s right to education remains taboo in many parts of Pakistan, which is why a brave young activist for education Malala Yousafzai was attacked six years ago.
Granted overturning taboos isn’t the primary job of the censor board, but in refusing to even watch the film, let alone ban its screening with any shade of reluctance, the board has established itself at the heart of the regressive forces that build skyscrapers with taboos surrounding the female anatomy.
If one were to spend considerable amount of time listing down the list of taboo subjects in the country, a significant chunk of them would centre around the woman’s body.
The concept of honour itself, for instance, begins and ends with women and their bodies. Even in the accusations of shame and pride that have nothing to do with actual female beings, the euphemisms or idioms used manage to reduce themselves to masculinity and femininity.
Even so, while many other taboo actions – voluntary or not – are centered around external activity involving the female body, menstruation is one taboo act that is completely dictated by nature.
Hence, a natural cycle denoting the rise and fall of hormones, and the growth of an egg, which is needed for pregnancy – and in turn the continuation of human life – is deemed a ‘shameful’, even if involuntary, act.
So those very patriarchal norms and ideals which historically earmark the act of giving birth as the woman’s sole responsibility, have tabooed its prerequisite.
Not that any other taboos that revolve around female anatomy, have much justification in the way of logic, but this one’s particularly self-defeating.
But what it does prompt is censorship of any discussion on menstruation, or sanitary napkins. This is despite the fact that they directly impact the health of one half of the population, and hence their cost, usage and availability are critical for human sustenance.
That in a nutshell is the theme of Padman, which our censor board didn’t even deem worthy of a watch. Maybe that’s why it’s never a great idea to have an all-man bench decide anything – let alone the fate of a piece of art that deals with a subject so critical to female wellbeing.