Aruna has patience that almost seems defined by her determination. Perhaps this is a useful (if somewhat unlikely) combination of traits for anyone with her job—an Advocacy and Training Officer working on the reproductive rights campaigns of the Centre for Agro-Ecology and Development (CAED) in Nepal.
CAED Office, Kathmandu
She explains the origins of chhaupadi, a practice of banishing women to a chhau goth (hut) during their menstrual period that persists in western Nepal. More information on this will follow in later blog posts, but for the benefit of readers who are unfamiliar with the practice, it is founded on a belief prevailing in certain Hindu cultures that women are impure during this time and after childbirth. Chhaupadi roughly translates as “the condition of being untouchable during menstruation”.
In addition to their banishment from the family home, Aruna explains, women and girls are forbidden from touching household items and other people (except infants); engaging in social and family events; consuming any dairy, meat, vegetables or fruit; and bathing. She is joined by Kulyani, who helps with translating and adds to Aruna’s descriptions. Another CAED staff member stops by to listen to our discussion.
Aruna attributes the spread of chhaupadhi to a restrictive religious interpretation propagated by gurus and other spiritual leaders a few centuries back (for example, in the Garud Puran and Manusmriti). We all marvel at the contrast with older Hindu texts, which do not mention menstrual impurity.
Aruna, Field Officer with CAED
“The most difficult part of putting an end to this practice is the mindset”, Aruna says. A few years ago, she was in a village called Murma in far western Nepal, raising awareness about the dangers of chhaupadi (including rape, illness and death). She managed to convince 75 households to allow their women to sleep on the verandahs outside their houses, where they could be closer to their family and away from the dark and damp confines of the chhau goth. Aruna was happy with this first step. 10 women even began sleeping indoors.
The dangers of chhaupadi reported in a local newspaper
These 10 success stories have probably been short-lived. On the last day of the training program, one of the girls in the village began menstruating for the first time and her family agreed to let her sleep inside, to Aruna’s delight. She woke with a crick in her neck, which almost all villagers took to be an irrefutable reminder of the punishment that will be dealt to all those who fail to practice chhaupadhi. I’m afraid to ask whether the group of 10 women returned to the chhau goth, and suddenly understand why determination needs to be coupled with patience in this line of work.
Posted By Caroline Armstrong Hall (Nepal)
Posted Jun 23rd, 2018