According to a recent BBC report, a 12-year-old girl from the Tirunelveli district in Tamil Nadu, India, killed herself after accusing her teacher of "harassing and torturing" her over her period. The alleged incident took place after the girl, whose name has not been released to the media, was reportedly forced by the teacher to leave her classroom due to having stained her clothes.
"I do not know why my teacher is making complaints against me. I still can't understand why they are harassing and torturing me like this," the girl wrote in her suicide note. "Amma [mother], please forgive me."
While police are still investigating the girl's case, her mother identifies the incident as the cause of her daughter's suicide.
"My daughter got her periods while she was in school last Saturday. When she informed the teacher, she was given a duster cloth to use as a pad. The teacher made my daughter stand outside the class. How can a 12-year-old withstand such humiliation?" the girl's mother told BBC Tamil.
A deeply entrenched stigma around menstruation persists in many parts of India today. Menstruating women are banned from Hindu temples, as they are believed to be ritually unclean. And poor menstrual hygiene in the country, where many women can't afford sanitary towels or tampons, has been linked to higher cervical cancer rates.
In addition to the associated health risks, a lack of access to menstrual hygiene can cause women and girls to miss school, be kept out of the workplace, and become ostracized from their communities. According to a recent Human Rights Watch report, "a lack of adequate wash facilities at school, fear of staining due to inadequate menstrual materials, or not having access to medication against period pains can all be factors that make girls stay out of school during their menstruation."
"India is a country that is obsessed with ideas of purity and pollution," Professor Nandini Deo of Lehigh University explains to Broadly. "Menstrual blood is viewed by many as impure. Therefore, a girl or woman who is bleeding is seen as impure—her impurity dangerously staining the purity of the household. This stigma persists because until very recently no one talked about periods."
Some efforts have been made to redress this ignorance and stigma. In Delhi, 70 government schools run workshops to answer commonly asked questions around menstruation. But according to 2016 UNESCO figures, 20 percent of girls in India drop out of school after starting their periods.
"The more that people talk about menstruation as a natural bodily function the more it will be destigmatized," Deo goes on. But advocates also hope that this girl's tragic case could prompt change.
"This case should be a wake-up call to all government officials, whether a teacher, education minister and anything in between, that periods aren't a shameful thing that girls and women should whisper about in euphemisms," comments Amanda Klasing of Human Rights Watch. "Menstruation is a natural process that should not create a barrier to a realization of human rights."