- Kanchan Pandit
According to Oxford dictionary, menstruation means to discharge of blood from the uterus, usually once a month ; to have a period. In the same way meaning of taboo according to oxford dictionary is, cultural or religious custom that forbids people to do, touch, use or talk about a certain thing. Violence against women and girls (VAW &G) is a violation of women’s human rights. It is one of the most serious forms of human rights violations in the world. The forms may vary from country to country, but the effect of each is the same, shattering the mental and physical condition of women and separating them from normal life.
Violence against women and girls, in its various forms, has existed in Nepal for many years. However, as it has often formed a part of Nepalese Culture, its destruction has not been recognized and addressed.It is a widespread phenomenon in each ethnic community and family. A list of menstrual restrictions are given which can be said as cultural violence.
Females during their menstruation are told to go to sheds called chaupadi in remote areas. While in cities, females are not banished to sheds but many of them are forced to adhere to a long list of menstrual restriction. During menstruation, every month, females are regarded to be impure called ‘achuto’ in Nepali. The cultural violence that most of the females suffers are described below.
a) Keeping in a dark and isolated place during first menstruation
Specially in the culture of Brahman and Chhetri, young girls during her first menstruation are kept in a dark room where no sunlight can be seen for twelve days. Or they are kept in a room with thick curtains where no sunlight can pass. Men, specially the girl’s father and brother are not allowed to see her during those twelve days. This culture is said to be ‘babu aama le mukh herya’ because after those twelve days are complete, father and mother of the girl see her by doing some puja and giving their daughter new clothes.
While in Newar culture, in the same way as that of Braham and Chhetri, young girls during her first menstruation are kept in a dark room where no sunlight can pass for twelve days. This culture is said ‘gufa rakhne’ Here, the girls are not even allowed to listen the voice of males and see them. After those twelve days are over, those girls are brought out and are dressed like that of a bride. It is said that girls are made to marry with the sun. Then, her mother put the sindoor on her forehead by using the left hand. Afterwards girl is made to see the sun first in the water as the reflection of sun, then only she is allowed to face the sun directly.
Though, these two cultures might seem to us interesting and many of us have also attended those ceremonies when we have been called, and we enjoy those. But have we ever thought how those twelve or thirteen years old young girls feel when they are kept in those dark rooms and when they are restricted to see to their own father and brothers. They won’t feel good obviously. We have never tried to view from their sociological aspect. At that very time, they need the sun – light. Vitamin – D is a basic requirement at that period, as during that time she is weak, but they are restricted from it.
b) Restriction to enter the kitchen
Restriction to enter the kitchen is found not only in the cultures of Brahman, Chhetri and Newar, but is found in many cultures. Woman during her menstruation are not allowed to enter the kitchen and cook food for her loved ones. They are prohibited to touch any kind of pickles and is believed that if it is touched then, those pickles will be rotten. While having meals, females are kept in a separate room, making them, making them feel impure and isolated. This makes them feel lonely. They are even not allowed to touch any vessels containing water. Incase if she has touched the foods in the refrigerator, then it becomes ‘jhutho’ – contaminated, then all the foods are cleared out.
When these beliefs were originally crafted, the living conditions weren’t hygienic and clean and hence, such conclusions were made. However, in today’s modern world where sanitary napkins have been replaced by old cloth that women used, living conditions have improved and these conclusions are beliefs no longer hold value. Yet, it is blindly followed. Although this myth is illogical, not cooking and staying away from the kitchen means taking leave from the kitchen and daily chores, and hence the woman gets to rest while she’s on her period.
c) Restriction from doing any kind of worship
Restriction from doing any kind of worship is found in majority of culture. It is believed that if any worship is performed during menstruation then, god will give them sin. Females during her periods are not allowed to enter temple. If any content of worship like flowers, water, incense lamp, etc. are touched by those females then, it is said that it has become impure just by touching it.
During Dashain or any other kind of festivals, if females are on her periods then, the menstrual restriction spoils the whole enjoyment of festival to her. She is not allowed to participate in any kind of ritual. This kind of boycott makes female feel isolated from their surrounding. The Sabarimala temple in Kerala goes a step further – since it is impossible to know whether a woman is menstruating, it has banned all women aged between 10 to 50.
d) Other restrictions
If female is on her periods then she is told to sleep in a different bed then the bed where she sleeps regularly, or even she is said to stay in a different room. Many educated girls feel shy and awkward even to talk related to the matter of menstruation. Menstruation is a natural phenomenon, every women goes through this every month, so what’s unnatural to discuss about it. Females on her periods are not allowed to touch seed, plants, flowers, etc. and incase if they touch them it is believed that seed won’t germinate, plants will decay and flowers will die.
If we look back a thousand years ago – what kind of sanitary facilities did she have? Cooking for 15 – 20 people, taking care of the children, it’s a tremendous amount of physical activity. So the woman who is going through a certain process of her cycle, she gets 3 days, 4 days break from everything. Isn’t that a wonderful thing? That’s the time where she needs to be cared for, protected, taken care of. Somebody else cooks for you, which never happens in her life; everyday she cooks. For those three or four days somebody else cooks for her, somebody else serves for her, she sits alone by herself, she meditates, she sings, she does prayer. Isn’t this a good way of doing things?
Let’s not consider these in today’s life.
Let’s analyze these looking back a thousand years ago when these things were made, it was a good way of protecting woman, but over a period of time somebody made this a discriminatory process, ‘A women should not come here, should not come there’. It’s taken as a taboo, restricting them and regarding them impure. If women are regarded impure during menstruation then, our birth is impure and the creation is impure. It is not because of purity and impurity this has come, it has come for practical reasons.
Menstruating is a good sign indicating that the woman has a healthy reproductive cycle and yet culturally, this same process is taken as taboo. In conclusion, menstrual restriction make the females helpless as they can’t deny saying ‘I won’t follow this.’ It would be difficult for us to change our parents thoughts as these thoughts are deep rooted. It’s fine if females are said not to cook, not to perform any religious activities, because they need rest during menstrual cycle, but along with this we should remember that we should not call them impure, make them to sleep in different room, tell them to have meal separately, not to go here and there. It’s such a time, which every female face every month, and in that time phase they need our support not our boycott.
By – Kanchan Pandit ( B.A.LL.B second year student studying in Kathmandu School Of Law)