“Chhaupadi” sheds are still alive in Far West

It was not the first time I heard about “Chhaupadi”, but the horror I felt when I saw the small huts with narrow inlets for the first time is beyond description. Yes. We are still living in primitive, barbaric age. And because we are living in Nepal.

Menstruation is simple, natural thing that is related with day to day life, health and growth of a girl, a woman. What is so big thing about it? A girl, naturally, socially learns about it at the appropriate time, learns how to cope with this and also naturalizes with time. Others don’t even have to bother about it. Yes, it becomes duty of a male family member, if she needs help, support or suggestions. But the case here is far more a matter of men’s pride, ego, masculinity and decision of men than one can imagine in Far West Development Region of Nepal. In these areas — namely Darchula, Baitadi, Dadeldhura/ Bajhang, Bajura, Achham/ Humla, Mugu, Jumla, Kalikot and to some extent also in Dailekh, Jajarkot and Surkhet districts.

They strongly believe that women become impure during those 4/5 days every month and their gods — “Mate”, as they call him — don’t like to see women coming to them at this period of time. So, the men force women in their periods to confine themselves in small, narrow huts/sheds without any window or door. At times more than half a dozen women have to spend their difficult time in a room which is smaller than a single bed. (as each house does not has separate chhau-goth, of the shed made for women in periods, the neighbors have to share it at times). In winter, they have to tolerate severe cold and snowfall and they are not allowed to take warm cloths or blankets. And in summer, they have to face the danger of snake-bites and in winter . Vulnerability of being assaulted by male perpetrators is always there.

They are subjects of negligence, insult or even hate for the common villagers. They are not allowed to walk on the main roads, go to the water taps or go near temples. And growing girl children are not allowed to touch books or go to school in the periods.

Apart from this, they not allowed to consume milk, yoghourt any other nitrous food, which is more important for them than ever. They have to depend on their family members who bring and leave their parts of food beside the hut for them.

Men believe that if women in periods remain in their houses, tigers would come attack them or their cattle. Or the gods will be angry at them and they will fall sick. They care more of the invisible gods than their own family members.

Obviously, this “tradition” or “culture” was going on uninterrupted for centuries and women have no option than obeying their male counterparts. But at least around 20 years ago some organizations started raising voice against it, some feminist newspapers started writing about it. For quite a many people in Nepal, it was a big shocking surprise, people still live like this in Nepal? they ask. Following this, many women’s and other social organizations went there and tried to raise awareness in the society. But they neither could change men not could they convince women to be ready to fight for their rights. Yes, lots and lots of money went there and many reports came.

My recent visits in Dadeldhura, Achham and Kailali revealed that the tradition is still going on and there is little chance that it will fade away soon. Now, the middle-aged and old men are still orthodox, who are not ready to listen to or discuss about Chhaupadi. Young men do not oppose logics of women’s liberation but they still make cunning, cynical remarks on anybody who speak against this “tradition”. They claim that women themselves do not want to discontinue Chhaupadi. Women, as their fate has it, are speechless. They can neither openly fight, not can argue on this system. When men start talking about menstruation, they naturally blush, keep silent or run away. Or, even those women who speak publicly against Chhaupadi are obliged to spend five days (in the past they used to stay seven days, and this is a big change for them) in those Chaugoth (the sheds to stay during the periods). And their obligation becomes a public joke in teashops.

Yes. It is also not that no changes have been seen. Changes are gradually showing some colours. But looking at the trend, time, speed and local people’s mentality, we have to conclude that it will take many years to completely iradicate this inhuman behavior. Some changes you can see in school going young and adolescent children. Many of their age have started going school in periods but most of them still have to reside in the sheds. They say they don’t want to miss classes it but their parents and grand parents don’t let them go. The ray of hope — at least their children will not have to face this fate. And school going boys also don’t want to support their orthodox grand parents.

Thanks to the rebellious youths, some of the VDCs are now declared “Chhapuadi free” VDCs. They are so named on papers and government documents. Some have “improved” sheds. But practices are still rampant even in those VDCs. And the government is planning to declare Achham as “Chhaupadi free” district. But at the practical level, their goal is stall far from reality.

And what are the social organizations doing? They are making frequent visits, investigating, preparing reports and making more proposals for further studies, very sorry to say. I know, one cannot expect overnight change in social behavior and dogma, but 20 years is quite a time.

You wonder why the government is silent or indifferent to this tradition. It is open to all. This tradition is directly related with Hinduism, which is the majority religion of the country. And most of the people in government or other decision-making bodies belong to this religion, they are not ready to speak against this or take any bold decision to stop it. Their silence is the answer. This is the reason why former prime minister Sher Bahadur Deuba and former home minister Bhim Rawal, both from those mentioned region, have not done anything to bring any visible change in this ill-tradition. As early as in 2005, the Supreme Court made a verdict that this should be discontinued. Actually more of the people in the government still want to see women going to the shed. Who is going to put the bell on the cat?


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Razen Manandhar

Razen Manandhar

A writer, a journalist, an Esperantist and a student of Buddhism; and works at Bodhi TV in Nepal.