The Practice of Nepal’s Menstrual Taboo - Chhaupadi Pratha

Monday, April 20, 2020

Arya Khadka, 20th April






The biological phenomenon of menstruation is indefinitely linked to the foundation sustaining human life and mankind, a process which shouldn’t be seen as sinful and an act of shame. This reality of normalizing menstruation amongst adolescent youth and women is only a dream for many in Nepal, primarily western districts of Nepal who continue to rigidly practice the social tradition of Chhaupadi Pratha - a form of menstrual exile.
The basis of this primitive tradition is the concept of “untouchability” originating from religious beliefs of Hindu’s in regards to purity and impurity, in which menstrual blood is impure. The superstition initially coming from a myth that menstruation is a curse created by lord Indra in which anything touched by a menstruating woman will be destroyed or catalyze the future misfortune of others, i.e, if a menstruating woman touches a man, he will fall ill. Thus, women menstruating are isolated from their family, household activities, livestock, water and food sources further restricting their access to basic necessities. And with relevance to the curse of menstruation, anything touched by an “impure” girl or woman must be discarded immediately or purified. The process of purification is  most commonly done with sun ko pani (water purified by gold). To further extend the extent of isolation adolescent girls and women are “banished” to live away from their family and community commonly in Chhau or livestock sheds.

According to the quantitative survey of a social study on Chhaupadi pratha with a population study of 107  adolescent girls in the western district of Accham - 72% practiced Chhaupadi (exile) outside their homes likely to Chhau or livestock sheds with the other 28% practicing various forms of self distancing within their homes (Amatya et al, 2018). Out of the 72% of girls who had to partake in exile 26% of their living spaces didn’t have any/proper ventilation, 70% without toilets and lastly, 38% of the sample population lacked bedding and blankets (Amatya et al, 2018). The brutal living situations these girls are forced to go through is simply antediluvian, out of the 77 girls that were exiled from their homes nine of them reported to have been bitten by snakes (Amatya et al, 2018). In addition, hundreds of deaths from this practice have been reported with women mauled to death by wild animals as well as deaths from fatal snake and scorpion bites. The girls and women are left helplessly to die or wait in despair until they are noticed, unable to seek medical care as they must wait until the completion of their cycle. The restrictive access to healthcare and human contact has made Chhaupadi pratha a leading cause of death in Nepal.

This social tradition of Chhaupadi is dangerous with regards to the health of adolescent girls and women, their temporary residence in an unhygienic livestock or Chhau shed with limited materials heightening the prospect of dehydration, hypothermia, reproductive tract and urinary tract infections. Asides from the fact that this social issue in Nepal requires urgent mediation from the government and health officials, this also encourages oppression against women as Chhaupadi pratha is a belittling experience and an unfortunate reality for many. With this said, if stringent measures aren’t taken immediately overt discrmination against women is a likely social consequence.

Although Nepal's supreme court placed a ban on Chhaupadi pratha in 2005, its followers are rigid on changing their ways hence, change is exceptionally slow as the taboo against menstruation and menstruating women is so deeply entrenched. The government deemed this tradition as a “human rights violation” yet Chhauupadi continues to flourish and persist. In 2017 new laws were introduced strengthening the legislative approach to menstrual exile due to three deaths that were greatly publicized. A fine of 3,000 Nepalese rupees and/or a three month jail sentence was also applied, this is progress towards breaking down the repressive barriers for women in Nepal. However, the struggle lies in enforcing the laws set in place. Furthermore, social change campaigns openly destroyed Chhau sheds declaring multiple villages as “Chhaupadi free” (Amatya et al, 2018). Yet, this only deteriorated the state of menstruating women in these villages as they were ostracized against and sent to more unhygienic and dangerous living residences.

Progressive change regarding Chhaupadi pratha can only be seen when government implemented laws and limitations are enforced consistently. Nepal also has 44.5% illiteracy rate in the female population, and persistent education about the dangers of this custom will be imperative in discouraging Chhaupadi. Generations of oppressed women who feel shame and impure for a bodily process they cannot control reinforces a repressive standard of treatment and discrimination against women. Eliminating this practice is a step towards a progressive society.


References

Practice and Lived Experience of Menstrual Exiles (Chhaupadi) among adolescent-girls in far western Nepal - Pubmed Central (pmc) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6287853







2 comments

  1. I just could not stop from presenting my views based on my understanding of Nepalese society, custom and culture and most importantly, the law.

    As a student journalist, Ms Arya has tried to highlight one of the cruel and inhumane practices in Nepal which has created not only mental and physical sufferings to many women but even death. It has been, without any doubt, a pressing issue for NGO’s and INGO’s along with the Government but still, the desired goal has not been achieved. The question, WHY, stands prominently.

    The practice of ‘exile’, I believe, also exists in rural Muslim communities. The problem with the Hindu community in many aspects of life is that the religion has tried to associate most of the practices with itself. Instead of providing adequate logic behind the practices, the educated people of 21st century are just going to take it in its face value.

    Whenever the practice started, certainly there were less awareness about the physical and mental aspect of it. We can’t deny the fact that hygiene must have been a major issue, centuries ago. I am not a medical person but it is the time when the women herself becomes vulnerable to infections when the general population lacked hygienic knowledge; let alone the availability of today’s product. Also, the fact can’t be excluded that she needs proper and adequate rest. Did Chhaupadi address these issues? Certainly NOT.

    So, was it merely due to lack of knowledge? When the women needs proper rest, diet and protection, the uneducated population probably started this inhumane treatment and how could they enforce it better than by associating the practice with religion?

    There is no question that when someone is sent to an isolated, unhygienic and unsafe hut away from the house, not only the person becomes vulnerable to animals and snakes as mentioned, there have been cases of physical and sexual assaults. This practice has put the women in even more vulnerable situation when they need more protection.
    The taboo becomes even greater, because, since it is associated with religion, there is an issue with the society. Every family, be it a man or a woman is somehow compelled to follow the tradition due to the fear of being socially discarded. I feel that the root cause does not lie in the religion but the deep rooted feelings and fear in the society that not only the poor and uneducated but every family is forced to continue the practice.

    She has clearly pointed out the legal amendments and enforcements to stop such a cruelty but has that helped? I am not much aware of the data but anyone who reads Nepalese newspapers can say with confidence that such measures have not been really effective.

    Merely changing the laws is not going to change the centuries old practices until and unless we manage to educate general public. This practice can vanish only when the general public is educated and aware.

    Starting from the root cause and highlighting the issue, Ms Arya has interestingly developed the article. Of course she has not been able to cover every aspect of social belief regarding the issue but has gradually developed it to the conclusion that education is probably the only solution. She also seems to be inclined towards legal enforcements but as far as the practical situation in Nepal goes, it can only minimize for a limited time.

    Lastly, well done Arya; not only for your writing but your selection of topic which is really very important for our families.

    PS: The movie ‘PADMAN’ (available in NETFLIX, not exactly Chhaupadi but the overall taboo) can be very educative.

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  2. Thank you for your detailed justified perspective regarding Chhaupadi, I appreciate the additional knowledge taken away. And I agree with the aspect of following through with Chhaupadi despite supporting against it for the fear of ostracization by the community, with people using fear to reinforce Chhaupadi within communities. With this said, I think we've all come to the general conclusion in which violence will not serve any good, it is likely to lead to mass outrage by the followers of Chhaupadi - and educating the uneducated on the social and health consequences of Chhaupadi seems to be an effective option if taken seriously by Nepal's government. Once again thank you for your shared insight!

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