This series of blog posts tells the stories of the people affected by chhaupadi, with a view to exploring different aspects of the practice in depth. All testimony and photographs in this series have been made available with the relevant subject’s express consent. A general introduction to chhaupadi is available here and there are more photographs in this album.
16 year-old Laxmi Bik, who has been spending close to a week every month in her family’s chhau goth (menstrual hut) for three years now, is no stranger to superstition. “Being there makes me very afraid and makes me want to stay inside the house,” she says. “I’ve told my parents this many times, but they don’t listen.”
Laxmi Bik tells Dila Kadel of her ordeal.
There is a voice in Laxmi’s house that speaks louder than her own while remaining inaudible. The message it brings is not one of clearly articulated and verifiable facts or reasoned arguments, but rather of fear and trepidation. This voice clearly has her mother and grandmother’s ear. Laxmi had been warned by them many times not to enter the family home while she was menstruating, to avoid causing her entire family punishment.
Laxmi may not believe in the doomsday forecasts of this voice, but she has good reason to fear for their effects. One day, during the middle of her period, Laxmi gathered the courage to show her family once and for all that they would not be punished for failing to banish her from the house. She walked from the chhau goth to the family home and stepped into the kitchen. Her mother turned away from the fire to see who had come inside and, after laying her eyes on Laxmi, looked as if she had just seen a ghost.
Her body, already wound tight at the unexpected sight of her impure daughter, suddenly released its tension in a relentless, full-body tremble, her eyes rolling into the back of her head. “It was as if a god had entered inside her”, Laxmi recalled with a defeated and somewhat fearful tone. Her grandmother, who was also in the room, reacted a little later (perhaps only after seeing Laxmi’s mother), complaining of an acute onset of unbearable pain. Laxmi left the house—the family home to which she belongs—and both grandmother and mother reported to feel much better in her absence.
This video gives an impression of the role that superstition plays in perpetuating the chhaupadi practice. Courtesy of Guardian News & Media Ltd.
This conversation with Laxmi reminded me of part of the lyrics to the famous Stevie Wonder song: “When you believe in things that you don’t understand / Then you suffer / Superstition ain’t the way”. The devastating difference for Laxmi, however, is that she is the greatest victim of a superstition in which only her grandmother and mother believe.
Posted By Caroline Armstrong Hall (Nepal)
Posted Aug 5th, 2018