Thiruvananthapuram: At a time when a debate rages on about the need to provide menstrual leave, records show that a girls school in Kerala had extended the relief to its students more than a century ago itself.
The Government Girls School in Tripunithura, located in the erstwhile princely state of Cochin (present Ernakulam district), had in 1912 allowed students to take ‘period leave’ during the time of their annual examination and permitted them to write it later.
According to a book “Kerala in the 19th Century”, written by historian P Bhaskaranunni, the head-teacher of the school had approached the higher-ups and requested granting of leave as women teachers and students were normally absent during the time.
Published by the state-run Kerala Sahitya Akademi in 1988, the book is considered to be an authentic study on various aspects of the southern state in terms of lifestyle, ritual practises, caste and communities, family set-up, education, agriculture, temples and administration during the 19th and early 20th century.
As per the then education laws, 300 days of attendance was necessary for students to appear for the annual examinations, the book said.
“Tests were conducted regularly and it was necessary for students to appear for the tests. But, it had become an issue in Tripunithura girls school where students and women teachers would not come during the time of menstruation,” it said.
In view of their frequent absence, school headmaster V P Vishwanatha Iyer had approached the ‘school inspector’ in Thrissur and put forward the issue before him on January 19, 1912, it said.
A favourable decision was taken by the authorities in this regard within the next five days, according to the book.
“The Education Director had issued an order on January 24 stating that those students who were unable to write annual exams during the time of menstruation should be permitted to write the same on another occasion,” the book said.
It is interesting to note that the head teacher, who belonged to an upper class community, had approached the authorities to grant period leave to his students at a time when the subject was a taboo.
Over a century later, the issue has had its echo in the Kerala Assembly during the ongoing session with Congress legislator K S Sabarinathan urging the state government to consider granting menstrual leave to its employees.
The young legislator pointed out that several countries were already granting period leave to women employees and the state government should consider the matter positively.
Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan had assured that the government would formulate a common stand on granting menstrual leave to women employees after considering various aspects of the issue.
“Women suffer from various physical difficulties during the time of menstruation. Now, debates on period leave are coming up. Serious debates should happen on the matter considering menstruation as a biological process,” he had said.
A serious debate on the topic came to the focus of the nation after a Malayalam television channel and two Mumbai-based companies introduced leave on the first day of period to its employees recently.
Cutting across political, ideological and gender barriers, people from various walks of life lauded the move and wanted it to be implemented in all sectors.
CPI(M) leader Brinda Karat had recently pitched for legal backing to menstrual leave for women employees and had opined that an employer was legally bound to make such a concession for women employees.