arcane and inhumane – “chaupadi pratha” – origins

Post dinner talks in my family are sometimes boring. I however always enjoy the company and sometimes few topics of immense interest does come up. Today, was that day, and something did come up, that I’d been very curious about, for more than a year now, haven’t dug deep though.

my proposed research title would be –
Perception and Attitude among Nepali women on “chaupadi pratha”, and it’s effect on cultural evolution in Nepal.

what is chaupadi?
I think this is unique to South Asian culture, and I know it is big among Hills and Mountains in Nepal, especially to Hindu Religion. I know it exists among certain Brahmins sect, Chhetris and also among Newars (but they might have another word for it). It’s when declare your daughter/wife/mother somewhat like an untouchable and send them to sleep in the cattle house/barn during their periods (menstruation). “chaupadi pratha” means this culture of kicking a women out of house, every month or so, just because she has her periods.

how strongly I hate this?
This is very disgusting and brutal. Something very prehistoric for today’s time. A cultural disaster, that does not account for the misery it causes to a human life.

why is it still there?
It’s a cultural thing. Your grandmother did it, your mother did it, your sister and your wife do it, and your daughter might be someday coaxed into this. It’s not just culture, but the whole religion that upholds the miserable existence to this ritual. To a point, that this is among handful of few things, that I really hate about in Hindu Culture/Religion.


how was it started? (my thoughts on it)
These are all, based on few minds (mine included) and I cannot say this is with certainty or guarantee of truth. I may be wrong, in which case, I welcome you to correct me, and then teach me.
South Asian culture which expands a time period of roughly five thousand years from Indus Valley and Harappa civilization had following few key points that might have contribute to this.

1. These lands (Nepal and sorrounding South Asia) were extremely fertile, with crops were in plenty. Unlike the Europeans, Middle East, and Africans; South Asia (and east Asia) was with plentiful food. So much extra food, that we have many religious rituals and Poojas, that makes us throw rice into fire. (imagine that, throwing away food – every few weeks, just to please so many gods with doubtful existence).

2. With plenty food came good number of children, and then population burst. Indian subcontinent has been full of people for a long time. It’s the same with ancient Chinese civilization. Mayans and Incas perished because they had food shortage. Towns and city were developing fast and there was nothing else to do except develop more sophisticated way of life. Our Literature and Arts saw it’s renaissance way back, with Mahabharata and Ramayana. We had too many gods to worship, and each of them had its own crazy, yet funny and brave story.

3. There were some very smart people, and some strong, some brave and some really dumb. In times, the smart people made some rules. Made the strong people their body guards (and ruler of the land), brave peole their messenger, and the really dumb people their slaves. Except, South Asian civilization did not really have slave system – it was morphed into some other name – the Caste System. This was integrated into the culture, which in turn was then coated with religion, and a doctrine was established. More rules were made, more gods were worshipped, more rituals were created.

4. For a farmer during the monsoon(the rainy season) or the winter, food was cooked inside a kitchen. This kitchen, as I gather from the present architectural reference in Nepal, is usually very small room, with the smallest possible window built on only one of the four sides of the room. The kitchen also usually has a small half partitioned room, which is usually the pooja room. The place where god and stuffs that represented the all mighty was kept.

5. Suddenly some crazy smart punk might have not liked the idea of eating food cooked by a woman who was bleeding inside the house. The current concept tables and chairs was not and people usually sat on ground with crossed legs, did some weird ritual stuff, before eating. There would be blood on the floor of kitchen (sadly, sanitary napkins were not yet invented), and this would be near the food, and also near the mighty God and its holy sanctum. This punk could not take his food outside (it was raining), and thinks that God would not feel good with bloody floor. Somehow God only feels good by numerous animal sacrifices in temples with red all over it’s floor.

6. Suddenly this punk realizes that, being Hindu usually comes with another great culture of joint family. There would be other women/girls (who apparently would not be in periods at the same moment) in their house to cook food few days every month. This lady may not have to cook or do the already hectic household chores for few days every month. It was a win win situation.

7. The smart people (both men and women) loved this idea, and because they were in ruling class, implement as a new ritual. The smart women loved the idea of this vacation every month. Made few changes and soon were enjoying the freedom outdoors. Dumb people, who by now (sixth, seventh or eight generations later) were relatively poor, and oppressed had to follow this rule.

8. Few hundred years later, the rule got modified somewhere, and now, women who were mensturating now even could not enter their own house. The rule that was created to keep them outside kitchen, now applied the whole of their home. Where else could she go?

9. Farm animals had their own house. All are animals except cows. Cows are like “god particle” in Hindu religion. A women now could not sleep in the same room where the cows were kept. She could however, be in the same room as goats, hens, horse, elephant, dinosaur, or a tiger. No cultural backlash with these animals.

Boom !! – a fully functional and mature religious doctrine is formed. A women is send to this old, rotten old shack to sleep every month. For some it’s the cattle house, for others its much worse. Imagine the horror of infections, mental abuse, and no safety. Just this last week, there was a cheetah attack to one of this shack and a woman lost her two year child sleeping with her mother. In Nepal this culture kills number of women every year, and very little is being done. Awareness and education to parents, mothers, fathers, granddads and grand mothers and the community are usually futile. There is a more than one generation of people that supports this.

this feels like living in a land of past during the dark ages

There is so much more to write about this particular miserable culture. I am however pressed with time, and must get back to books. I will write more on this. I believe this to be a health disaster, and would very much want help change or evolve this into something favorable.

P.S. I have nothing against god. It’s people who twist and turn religion for their own personal gains, that irks me.

P.S.ii. this post is an abrupt outburst of dissatisfied me.

Published by prashant

adhere and assimilate. pursuing public health.

7 thoughts on “arcane and inhumane – “chaupadi pratha” – origins

  1. Your arguments on this issue is worth reading. I really liked it. I do not intend to criticize or correct you, but I have an opinion on this matter that I would like to share.
    Like you said, it is people who twist and turn religion for their own personal gains. I totally agree with you. There is no denying that Hindu religion has always been “interpreted” by “wise men” in favor of men and thereby depriving women of their dignity and rights.The problem is that of interpretation and not religion itself. I doubt if the “wise men” who wrote the religious scriptures, supposed to contain the rules of life, intended to debase women kind. There must have been some logic and reasoning to whatever is/was written. People fail to see this side and stupidly follow religion in out of fear.

    In my opinion ( just an opinion), during ancient times there were no sanitary napkins (as you mentioned on point 5.) and no hygienic conditions. Besides, its likely that health service was not in reach of everyone. So to prevent any unwarranted health conditions/epidemics, women were segregated; so much that they could not use public water source or even show up at any public sphere. No bad intentions so far…simply a general health concern.

    The positive spin to this is probably that women were relieved of their heavily burdened household chores. This separation gave them a break, a time for them to renew their energy both physically and mentally (sometimes, a conversation with oneself can be very fulfilling, mentally). Today, people who criticize this system totally ignore this side of the story.

    To make sure that these rules were followed, religion was brought into the picture. Which man would not fear God? People were duped into believing that it is the will of God and henceforth should be followed blindly which they did; forgetting the sole purpose of this rule.

    The writers who wrote the holy books died. But their rules survived, as a blind faith; and still exist. IRONY.
    Things have changed today. Sanitary conditions and health services are improving (at least in urban areas). BUT people’s atttitude and misbeliefs remain the same. STATUS-QUO .
    People refuse to believe that it was NOT god’s will. If educated people cannot rationalize their faiths, what good is their education? Shouldn’t we call them literate but uneducated?

    In rural areas, we cannot expect them to change overnight. We should not.They lack access to the basic health facilities. Sanitation issues are perpetual. The state being supine if not complicit in this matter.The least we can do is create awareness. Getting the women into the family kitchen, during periods, is a far-cry. But we can certainly, help to create hygienic conditions for them; at least get them out of the cattle-sheds. The state should work towards ensuring their right to a healthy living.

    I am sorry this is too much of words. A few more things I want to highlight:

    1. This system of rendering a woman untouchable during her periods, is also common in dalits and many ethnic communities, not Brahmin and Chhetris alone. Religious distinction was never very marked at least for the ethnic communities until recently. Budhanilkantha, Mahankal, Haleshi to name a few, are some temples where both Hindu and Buddhist people go to offer their prayers..Celebration of Dashain and Tihar by all until recently…My point is some Hindu cultures and traditions have been followed by ethnic groups as well. May be not followed as strictly as in a Brahmin or a Chettri household, but it is there too.

    2. The kind of occupation that dalit people were engaged in, mostly involved unhygienic conditions. Say, a blackmith or a sweeper…..etc.. So for fear of wide spread health crisis, again the same writers of the holy books, might have severed them from the rest of the society. My opinion.

    3. On bastu shashtra, I am myself, pretty interested in its science. Surprisingly, it says idols of Gods should not be kept in the kitchen. NEVER. I dont know the reason why most Nepalese households put them in the kitchen….may be because they know that a bleeding women wont enter the kitchen. I am implying that gods entered the kitchen after the women left it and not before that….

    In the end, I am sorry for writing so long. But I am sure you wont mind πŸ™‚ Happy new year!

    1. Great to read your comment. Loved it. πŸ™‚ my argument has definitely gained new perspective from it. Yes it wouldn’t be wise to abolish these at once, and it’s a slow tiresome process.

      I also agree this being among the minority and/or ethnical culture. My point of view wanted to cover the general population cohort. Still improving on my writing, next time I will include be more discreet.

      Thank you,

      happy New Year

    2. P.S. – its just not Hindu religion that’s being written and directed by wise humans. Almost all religion have some wisest men (mostly) who make it their passion to improve on the prevailing culture via religious doctrines.

      problem is, not all wise minds are good. There will be few evil minds as well. They have in past, and certainly will (in future) make some big blunder for the whole lot of remaining followers.

  2. I agree with you, Wisdom is no exclusive property of any one religion. But when we say wise, I hope we mean those people who can say good from bad. How can anyone be wise when he contemptuously misuses his knowledge against the society, or any part of it? It must be the unwise/followers who misinterpreted them.
    Following your blog, I have tried to write some things on this same issue (much of which I have already written above). I hope you read it in case you find some time. Have a good day πŸ™‚

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