This series of blog posts tells the stories of the people affected by chhaupadi, with a view to explore 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.
14 year-old Sunita Dhugana’s favorite subject at school is math. It might be her deductive mind that makes her the perfect candidate for the first post in this blog series—she gives answers to interview questions that comprehensively cover the practical components of the chhaupadi custom. Sunita uses her experiences to reveal how the cultural prescriptions of menstrual banishment play out in practice, citing fact after fact to illustrate her story in a concrete way.
Sunita Dhungana with Tulasi Kadel standing behind her
“[My family’s] chhau goth has no doors, no window, no lock; it doesn’t feel safe…but at least it has a bed frame”, she says, referring to the hut that was constructed to house all of the female members of her family during their menstrual period. Sunita explains matter-of-factly how it all happens.
A chhau goth (not the one used by Sunita’s family). The dishes in this photograph are used by women and girls only when they are menstruating, and may not be touched by other family members.
Every month, when her time comes, she moves into the chhau goth for four days. She sleeps there and, when she wakes in the mornings, is brought some food by her mother. The food comes on a separate plate that is used only during these four days each month; there are also designated chhaupadi utensils that are segregated in the same way. Sunita has to wash these utensils and plate herself, in a separate bucket of water, because they have been touched by someone who—as far as her grandmother is concerned—is impure. “For drinking, washing and so on,” she explains, “I have to fetch a separate supply of water for myself”.
A secondary school classroom in the village of Gutu, Surkhet District, where Sunita lives
When Sunita returns home from school, she goes straight back into the chhau goth, because she is forbidden from entering the family home. “Sometimes my friends, mother or sister keep me company”, she says. “I also help my mother around the house, but I don’t have to do any heavy tasks because she takes care of them.” Sunita realizes that her mother consciously reduces her workload, regardless of whether she is menstruating or not, to give her as much time as possible to study and read. Other girls in her village are not as fortunate and have to carry heavy loads (including water, firewood and fodder), walk long distances and care for dozens of goats, oxen or buffaloes every day—even after nights of exhaustion and poor sleep spent in a chhau goth.
The road Sunita takes to walk to school
Sunita is grateful to her mother for taking on more work to give her all the time she needs to progress at school, but equally disappointed that she has not been convinced by the arguments Sunita has raised with her for ending chhaupadi. “This practice is bad, it leaves me feeling unsafe and vulnerable”, she explains. Nevertheless, she remains hopeful that one day her parents will listen to her and stop forcing her into the chhau goth. After all, she reasons, other girls in the village are being allowed to sleep indoors, slowly but surely. It will only be a matter of time.
Posted By Caroline Armstrong Hall (Nepal)
Posted Jul 13th, 2018