Marayoor (Kerala): It's been a while since tribal Adivasi women and girls in three villages of Kerala's Idukki district have menstruated. Reason? They have been popping contraceptive pills to avoid the inconvenience of those few days, say people from the area. As a result - the practice begins from the time girls start menstruating - many have stopped conceiving in the villages of Marayoor, Vattavada and Kanthaloor, say activists. Idukki is around 300 km from state capital Thiruvananthapuram.
Idukki Lok Sabha member P.T. Thomas said he was shocked to hear about this phenomenon and, upon inquiring into it, found it to be true. "According to Adivasi customs, on the days of menstruation the women have to stay away from their homes and remain for at least three days at a separate place called Valapurai. Since the facilities at these Valapurai are not good, they have found an easy way out - popping a pill and not menstruating," Thomas told IANS.
Helping the women not to menstruate is Mala-D, an oral contraceptive pill produced by the central public sector Hindustan Latex Limited. Shops in these three villages have apparently been making a killing selling Mala-D and that too at an exorbitant price.
Usha Henry, the village council president at Marayoor, told IANS this has become a serious issue and they were running awareness campaigns against the ill effects of the practice. "The sad part is girls start having this oral contraceptive right from the time they start to menstruate. And even sadder is the fact that it is the men folk who buy Mala-D and give it to the women," said Henry.
According to the traditions of these Adivasis, at least for three days during the menstruation period they have to stay in the Valapurai and during those days they are not supposed to see the face of any men. "It has also been found that there are many women here who fail to conceive even after several years of marriage because they have been taking oral contraceptives. This is a serious social issue," said Henry.
Around 29 percent of the population in these three villages are Adivasis - approximately 2,000 in each - mostly belonging to the Muthuvan tribes. They are engaged in farming activities.
Pankajam, a health worker at Marayoor Health Centre, said it is absolutely correct that these women take oral contraceptives to avoid menstruation. "We do conduct health camps, conduct stage shows to educate them about why they should stop this. But one problem is that with the Tamil Nadu border quite close to these villages, if they don't get the contraceptive from shops here, then there are agents who supply it from there," said Pankajam.
She said several women in these villages were finding it difficult to conceive. "When we tell them about the ill-effects, they reply that the conditions at the Valapurais are appalling, leaving them with little choice," said Pankajam.
Efforts are on to improve the Valapurai facilities.
Thomas said: "It was only last week that I opened two Valapurai under the Kanthaloor village council. We used funds from the National Rural Health Mission. I have also spoken to the drugs controller to see that immediate steps are taken to see that they raid shops selling the contraceptive. We have also begun a serious awareness campaign among the Adivasis to see that they desist from taking this oral contraceptive."
Kanthaloor village council president Madhavan is worried. "It's now become a trend among the Adivasi community. For them, it is like chewing bubble gum. The sad thing is the strip with the oral contraceptive contains iron tablets as well, but they throw that away. We have decided in our council meeting to see that we come out with proper controls to stop the practice. Another major problem is this community is hugely secretive. We are going to come out with a massive awareness campaign because if this continues, an entire tribe could vanish forever," said Madhavan.