Because Indra went astray!

I was surprised when I heard that young K was going to spend a few days at home. I am always delighted when she is with us as she is a ray of sunshine, but this is school and unit test time so what the hell was she doing! I obviously had to ask what was happening. That is when I first heard of a custom called Chaupadi, practised in Nepal. What I was witnessing was a revised and 'modernised' version of this abhorrent custom. The article gives an elaborate description of the horror. In short a woman is considered 'unclean' while she is menstruating and is kept in isolation as the gods will be angered and bring ruin upon hapless male members of the family. So she is locked up in a dark hole. Men need to be protected as is always the case.

I do remember some elders in my own family make inane statements like 'don't touch the pickle jar' as it is believed that it will rot if touched by one who has her period. We were also banished from the prayer room and not taken to Temples. I found this unjust but never raised my voice as my parents, though traditional always sifted the grain from the chaff as far as traditions were concerned, and only taught me what they felt stood to logic and my cartesian mind. I remember telling my father first that I had had my period and we both went out to buy me a gift. I was 10!

This terrible custom does not stand to any logic, however warped. Menstruation is part of the normal growth of girl and needs to be celebrated just like you celebrate the first word, the first step, the first day at school and many more firsts. How illogical it is to consider the very essence of creation as something dirty! Having your first period is traumatic for any child. That is when she needs love, affection, help, care, tenderness and above all the presence of her family. Imagine how she feels when she is sent to the cowshed in the village or to strangers home in the city! Once upon a time this isolation was considered as 'forced rest' and could have made some sense if the woman was well looked after, but now she is still meant to work. As one woman says: if I can feed the cow when having my periods, why can't I drink its milk? If I can collect firewood for the kitchen, why can't I cook? If I touch a plant, it will die they say, then why am allowed to breast-feed in the chaupadi? This is absurd.

The watered down version that I am seeing today is incomprehensible. The young girl will continue to go to school and carry on with her life but cannot see any male member of her family for the next 7 days! Blissfully in this version this is only for the first cycle.

My curiosity compelled me to find out the origin of this Hindu practice and thanks to the WWW and Google this is what I foundAccording to religious folklore, Indra, the King of Heaven was accused of killing a Brahmin and because of the illicit acts with women that Indra committed during his quest to redeem his sin, for these acts all women were said to be punished through menstruation. So if I get it right, a God goes philandering and it is all women, including you and me, who are punished and tormented. Hey that is a good one for explaining all the rape and abuse against women. You are being raped because Indra went astray!

This practice has landed in our city because of the large number of migrants from the region where it is the most prevalent. Urban existence has compelled families to revisit the custom and contain it to the first cycle only. But that is probably the worst 'modernisation' you could have come up with.The first cycle is when a girl is still a child and when she needs maximum support. You cannot lock her away or send her to strangers. And how can you think that a menstruating child's touch can  hurt the males of the family! What she needs most is a hug from her father. That is what I got.

To be continued