Women have an obsession for cleaning, scrubbing, rinsing, mopping, washing everything in their homes in my native place. From doors, windows, carpets, ceilings, tiles to courtyards and verandas and big iron gates too. I would often wonder at this obsession for purity and cleanliness which clearly borders on the obsessive-compulsive-disorder (OCD) and is responsible for rising orthopedic, arthritic and spinal diseases in young girls as old as 15. It wasn't until I started really getting into the crux of it when I realised it was not limited to a certain geographic region but was found in the plains of North Indian households too. A discussion with a friend on the proclivity of this phenomenon in urban middle class women of a completely different culture and religion made me realise that the malaise was deeper than observed. 

When organised religion came into being, women started getting marginalised. It was different from the pagan religions that held the Goddess in high esteem as is evident from the various Venus figurines found all over the world, the most famous being the Venus of Willendorf. The Feminine was revered, worshipped and celebrated and there were clearly matriarchal societies in ancient times. There was a paradigm shift when monotheistic religions took over and the discrimination and repression of female sexuality became more pronounced. Where the pagan rituals had celebrated the advent of puberty in girls with festivals and ceremonies; as is still practiced in the Navajo tribes of Native Americans and certain African Bush societies; the monotheistic religions worked to defame the natural process of a woman's reproductive cycle to the shadows. The menstrual cycle became 'dirty', the women 'unclean', childbirth became 'confinement', women generally were barred in the inner sanctums of holy places in orthodox religions and menstruating women were strictly taboo as is so expertly portrayed in Anita Diament's The Red Tent (an imaginative depiction of women going into seclusion for their periods in a 'red tent' in Abrahamic lands).

I couldn't help wondering about the effect this demonizing of a natural aspect of femininity would have had on the psyche of women. That it was not confined to monotheistic religions and cultures is what surprised me. Polytheistic cultures too considered it taboo and had their share in the repression of women for their ability to bear life. Millennium of looking down upon women as 'unclean' not to mention the 'distraction' or 'titillation' in the path of men's journey towards the granted for 'heaven' that they all seem to think they deserve is bound to have left women with a depreciation of their physical systems. Hence the constant urge to clean, scrub, wash. Not only their physical bodies, but their homes, their surroundings, their offspring, their sins and the accumulated perceived burden of Man's fall from grace and his ultimate eviction from 'paradise'. 

Have we so demoralized our women? Have we rendered them so filthy and unclean that they have collectively across race, class, caste, and sects subconsciously developed this penchant for washing and cleaning? We come across molestation accounts very frequently now due to media coverage and social networking sites. In almost all harrowing accounts, the women narrate their own behaviour after the incident. That of trying to wash the 'eyes' that stripped them naked while walking on the street; trying to clean those hands which felt them on the buses; trying to scrub the memory of the assaults from their minds. On my way to my day job, I notice a lot of home makers early in the morning busy piping down their tiny courtyards with copious amounts of water. I can't help wondering if they were trying to wash away the events of the previous day or night from their lives. Who knows whose has been the most brutal experience! There is a lot which happens behind closed doors. 

Yet I'm convinced if this world has to progress to a much co-habitable, tolerant, and less hostile place with the most warring species in domination, it will have to restore the dignity and respect for the ancient Femininity of half of its population. The UN too has recognised this and is making an all-out effort to target impoverished cultures where FGM, child marriage and other barbaric practices are keeping women and entire populations in dire straits. Recognising this would definitely help in leading entire societies from darkness to light with little girls and boys growing into healthy beings with high self-esteem and not loathing any part of their bodies. Sound and healthy youth leads to sound and healthy families which in turn leads to thriving and progressive cultures. 

I am concerned also for the wastage of so much running water considering the future wars are going to be for the Blue Gold. I hope we come to our senses before the world runs out of water.