By Rhijuta D
About bloody time!
I was recently reading an article about menstruation and its practices in Nepal. I couldn’t help, but conduct more research on this topic. The internet is a great source to learn about and challenge popular myths. With menstrupedia taking off in India educating rural girls and women all about the monthly cycle, and Genderlog on Twitter questioning the myths during periods, and with Kiran Gandhi running without a tampon during London Marathon, everyone is trying to break the taboo and menstruation has never gained so much attention (aside from the blue liquid we get on sanitary pads adverts).
Girls believe they cannot bend, run or play during periods — whereas these activities can actually relieve muscle pain.
— Genderlog (@genderlogindia) October 16, 2015
Not all Nepalis follow thousands of rules (and yes it does feel like there are that many rules) on what to do and what not-to-do during their periods. The number of rules increases or decreases on the type of family environment you live in. If your family doesn’t follow many strict rules then you are one of the lucky ones. No matter how open-minded you are, how you may understand that the ‘traditions’ are just myths to create fear in the old days because it really was unhygienic pre-underpants era, it’s never as easy to convince your mother or your grandmother this. Just like Prakriti Kandel here, if something bad happens to your close ones, it’s because you touched them during your periods. The Nepali society in general are scared of God and try to pass on that fear onto you.
Sometimes when you try to discuss this with family members, your frustration turns into an argument and you are shut down. The most common response to why these traditions exists come in forms of, “but you can rest for four days”, and “I enjoy not cooking for few days.” I heard this in Mugu district (in Far-West Nepal) by a local neta type man, “girls need rest on those days, that’s why we give them plenty of iron.” This man clearly failed to see in districts like Mugu and Accham, where Chaupadi is practiced, women don’t really rest. They mostly go out to do the field-work.
During my adolescent years, I lived with my grandparents and extended family. I lived with and obeyed the toughest rules. But not all the time. As soon as I got my period, I would put my brother on the back of the bicycle and go to my maternal aunt’s house. There, we could play together and eat together. It was much nicer. Once, upon return, my grandmother told me that I shouldn’t touch my brother, his life span would decrease if I touched him. Yes, they want you to feel that sort of fear!!
But I always used to wonder why I wasn’t allowed to touch the vegetables when coming back from the market. No one ever asked the vegetable lady if she was menstruating, they still took the vegetables from her. I thought maybe women who are menstruating don’t go out to work.
A lot of my grandparents’ grandchildren have their own variations of what they do/ not do during menstruation. This is highly correlated to where they live or have lived in the past. I guess everyone rebelled as soon as they were able to understand more and made up their own minds. To this day, I do not touch religious statues or go into puja rooms (prayer room) or temples. I have lived on my own most of my life and never have had a prayer room. I never even have to think about these rules in my own space.
But feeling of being impure was ingrained in my head. I mean that’s what you get told even before you hit puberty. You ARE impure during your periods. When I was in Accham, I had an opportunity to attend a wedding. This is a district where they believe demons and animals come into your house when you touch things during your cycle. I was unsure of what to do because I was still on my period. Out of respect, I had told my housestay maiju, but in the end decided to go. I went to the wedding-house and they were doing puja in a small room. I couldn’t make myself go into that room. The guilt and the fear were enormous and I felt like I was disrespecting people who believed in this. I left and sat outside with the other outcasts.
It took a lot of studying for me to understand that being on your periods isn’t impure. As far as I now understand, this was created because men in the old age, when holy scripts were written, didn’t quite understand this natural phenomenon so they got scared of it. So when I read that women go to the temple during their periods, it mystifies and intrigues me. I have been in the temple area during my monthly cycle, but never actually entered the place of worship. I don’t know if I will (maybe I need to take baby steps). But then again, I probably wouldn’t tell my mum, or any old aunties that I have caused such blasphemy. But then again, I am not someone who believes that one needs to be in the room full of idols to talk to God. I only speak to God, in bed, in my pjs, in the middle of the night, mostly when I’m not able to sleep because I feel like my life is about to fall apart. Perhaps I have always defied customs without even knowing. I do know one thing for sure though. If I have a daughter one day, she will not grow up thinking having her period is icky or impure and whether she wants to go to temples or not, it will be her choice.