Sunday, April 24, 2011

Untouchability during menstruation and Chaupadi Custom

-Janaka Gautam ‘Muna’
Culturally, Nepal is rich country. There are many customary practices. Some of them leave good impact in the society and some of them leave negative impact too. Such customs are in practice either all over the country or in certain area.  Among the bad practices, Untouchability in the basis of cast is widespread in Nepal. This tradition itself is baseless, dishonorable and illegal as well. In the other side women in some so called touchable families are also treated as untouchables, during the menstruation period and for certain time after giving birth to a child. Such behavior is not limited in certain area. It can be observed in rural area and as well in urban. Because of these practices women are victim on the name of chaupadi custom in many part of the country.

           It’s said that customary practices like chhaupadi violate women’s human rights. Women are lamenting and saying that this issue is overshadowed. Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against women, 1979 has been ratified by more than 185 state parties. Nepal has ratified it on 22 April 1991. Nepal has some obligations as a party of this instrument. Likewise court has also responsibility towards such instrument and the people. In this regard, Supreme Court of Nepal has directed the Government of Nepal to declare Chhaupadi practice as defective value.

On this situation, by the international human rights instruments and national laws have been declared to illegal caste, race and birth base untouchability but no one of the international human rights convention and national legislative mechanism has address directly to restrict menstruation untouchability. In this situation, researcher feels that need to find out the impact of menstruation untouchability on women’s personalities.  

There is also a superstition that, if a menstruating woman, particularly an unmarried one, touches a man, he will fall ill. Likewise, if they touch trees, they will not bear fruit. The women have to stay away from temples and other holy places too. It is also believed that if these women are given milk, the cow will stop producing milk. The girls are prohibited to touch the books. So the girls are deprived from education too. These all are superstitious belief, because there is no scientific or logical ground of such manner. Even though educated women know this practice as bad practice, they follow the practice because of the fear of criticism from the society.

Chhaupadi Practice in Nepal

The word Chhaupadi is the combination of two words chhau and padi. The meaning of chhau is women’s condition of being untouchable. The meaning of padi is being. Likewise the term Chhaupadi is defined as the action of being untouchable, the condition of being menstruate, being away, and a woman in menstruation. Another word chhui is also used to indicate the condition of menstruation. According to dictionary Chhaupadi seems to be related with menstruation, but in practice it is also related with the condition of women being untouchable for certain time after giving birth to a child. The word chhaupadi seems to be new one. The meaning and practice is the same all over Nepal in certain community. In far western and in some part of Midwestern region of Nepal it is known as chhaupadi and in other parts it is known as mahinawari hunu, rajaswala hunu, bahira sarnu, para sarnu etc. Women in certain part of Nepal are called Chhaupadi in certain time after menstruation and giving birth to a child and behaved as untouchable. They have to live either in a Chhau goth or in a cattle shed. In some rich family they are kept in the ground floor of the house. Women in Chhaupadi are barred from consuming milk, yogurt, butter and other nutritious food. The women must survive on a diet of dry foods, salt, and beaten rice.  In such condition women are deprived of certain facilities and respectful behaviour. In total such practice is called Chhaupadi.

Chhaupadi practice is mainly found in Darchula, Baitadi, Dadeldhura, Kanchanpur, Bajhang, Bajura, Doti, Achham and Kailali District of Far western development region. Likewise it is found in Kalikot, Dailekha, Humla and Jumla District of Mid western development region too.

Legal protection for women’s personality 
There are different human rights instrument assuring women’s right, dignity and equality with men. Charter of United Nations (1945) has come out to reaffirm faith in human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person, in the equal rights of men and women and to promote social progress and better standerds of life in larger freedom.
Universal Declaration of Human Rights addressed that all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. It is assure  that equal rights,freedom and non discrimination to everyone. It is also assure that right to liberty of person, it has protect to person  from torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment and all are entitled to equal protection against any discrimination. In article 25 mention  that the right to a stander of living adequate for the health and well being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, It give special emphasize to motherhood and childhood for entitled to special care and assistance. It has protected the right freely to participate in the cultural life of the community.

International convention on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights(ICESCR), International Convention On Civil and Political Rights(ICESCR), also based on the principle of human dignity, equality, nondiscrimination, freedom, liberty and justice. Among all principle these convention has given to emphasize to inherent dignity of the human person, by saying, recognizing that these rights derive from the inherent dignity of the human person. Those nations ratified these treaties they are binding through state obligation. They have to amendment, or make laws according to the treaties sprit, if nations have failure to according that the victim can go to invoke justice on human rights committee.

Among these convention on the elimination of all forms of discrimination against women (CEDAW), 1979 is very significant. Nepal has ratified this convention on 22nd April 1991. Article 2 of this convention has made the state parties to make policy of eliminating discrimination against women. Nondiscrimination, equality and state obligation is core principles of the CEDAW.  According to article 2(e) and 2(f) the state parties undertake to take all appropriate measures to eliminate discrimination against women by any person organization or enterprise and to take all appropriate measures, including legislation; to modify or abolish existing laws, regulations, customs and practices which constitute discrimination against women.

Para 5 of Viena Declaration and Programme of action addressed that it is the duty of state, regardless of their political, economic and cultural systems, to promote and protect all human rights and fundamental freedoms.

National legal protection for women personality
Nepal has ratified different human rights instrument to assuring women’s dignity and equality with men.  Among them convention on the elimination of all forms of discrimination against women, 1979 is very significant. Nepal has ratified this convention on 22nd April 1991. Article 2, 2(e) and 2(f) of this convention has made obligation to the state parties to make policy of eliminating discrimination against women.

 In Dilbahadur Bishwakarma and other vs. Council of Ministers and other's case the Supreme Court of Nepal has provided a directive order in the name of the respondent. According to this judgement Prime minister and cabinet secretariat have made compelled to declare the practice of chhaupadi as defective value, Ministry of women, children and social welfare have made liable to  make a directive within three month from the date of receiving this order and implement it to eliminate any kind of discrimination against women within Chhaupadi custom. This decision is a mile stone for correcting the defective value of the country. It created the compulsion for the government to take an action about defective value like chhaupadi. Even though the petitioner has raised the question, the court is silent about the discrimination during menstruation all over the country.

 Although the decision of the Court was based on the Constitution of the Kingdom of Nepal 2047(1990), The Interim Constitution of Nepal 2063(2007) has more progressive provisions. Article 20 has guaranteed the right of women and article 29(2) reads as “no one shall be exploited in the name of any custom, tradition and usage or in any manner whatsoever”. Moreover, untouchability practice is against the international instrument, Courts decision and the present Constitution of the country. So it is the responsibility of the Nepal government to eliminate this defective value.
Impact of menstruation untouchability on Women’s personality
From the study of mention above definitions, Auther’s views, International human rights instrument’ provisions, it comes to know that there are signifying remark about the dignity of human person. Equal rights of men and women are inalienable, interrelated, interdependent and inherent rights. These rights can’t ‘curtail in the name of the cultural practice. It is clear that the practice of menstruation untouchability plays obstructs role on women’s personality. It curtails one components of personality. Liberty is a one component of the personality. In taboo condition they can’t do on their choice. They have to stay in tinny room, they can’t enjoy their cultural rights because they are not allow to enter into puja room, are not allow to participation on the cultural ceremony. It is not in favor of the women’s dignity. International human rights instrument taken degrading treatment against the human dignity and rights. It is true that the condition of menstruation period is uncomfortable to women itself, there is need to be clean, but the taboos are not derived from any abstract principle. In Nepal there is      hierarchy because of their "unpure" status. A woman that was not allowed to develop to her maximum potential because of culture and social norms that surrounded her.
The preamble of CEDAW has defined that recalling that discrimination against women violates the principles of equality of rights and respect for human dignity, is an obstacle to the participation of women, on equal terms with men, in political, social economic and cultural life of their countries, hampers the growth of the prosperity of society and the family and makes more difficult the full development of the potentialities of women in the service of their countries and humanity. Thus segration of cultural life during menstortion period one kind of discrimination it hampers for full development of the potentialities of women. Discrimination against women has defined as any distinction, exclusion or restriction made on the basis of sex which has the effect or purpose of impairing or nullifying the recognition, enjoyment or exercise by women. Menstrutoon untouchability has nullifies the dignity of women. Menstruation is the main obstacle to women's participation in liturgical functions. A woman does not becomes a demon or an evil force during her period. But  women are suffering from cultural violence It is against personality of women it violate the right to immunity .

Untouchability is the  root cause of the Chhaupadi practice in Nepal According to the report of the Chhaupadi partha adhyan upa samiti  tha bad impact of chaupady  are: Women are suffering from mental health, Even the death can be occur because of  attack of wild animal, they Can be victimized of rape, Reproductive tract infection and pneumonia, Malnutrition, Fall of uterus because of heavy work, Disturbance in education because of untouchable behave, Humiliation, Pneumonia, dysentery and hypothermia in children. Thus women are deprived from right to housing, right to food, right against exploitation, right to human inherent dignity, right to non discrimination, right to participate in cultural practice, rights to health, right to freedom. Thus this practice is against the women’s personality. It keeps women on the feet of humanity.

In the basis of above findings and analysis it is clear that untouchability practice in menstruation period is a defective value. It plays bad role on the women’s personality. It deprives women from the component of personality. It curtails rights to choice and right to liberty of the women and as well as right to freedom .It is one of the root causes of the women subordination. Women are deprived from the cultural rights as well as it plays an obstacle role on the right to housing, right to standard of living, right to neutrinos food, and from right to health and education.

In the name of the culture there should not be oppressed any human person. There should maintained human dignity of human person, non discrimination, justice, equality, freedom, humanity and pursue of happyness. The root cause of chhaupadi custom is menstruation untouchability, which it is keeping women on the feet of humanity and second class human beiung as well as the subordination of the men, which is also one of the causes of women’s sorrow death being the food of the hunger tiger, and snake beting as well as the malnutritation.

According to International human rights treaties, constitutionally and Article 2 of the CEDAW Nepal government is liable to eliminate such value. Government is liable to follow the decision of Supreme Court as well. Government has already declared Chhaupadi practice as defective value. In the decision of the Supreme Court, the court is silent about the petitioner’s question about the discrimination during menstruation all over the country. Such task demands a keen concern of every sector of the country including the strong laws and with speedy remedy to be illegal to meanstrional untouchability.

The Interim Constitution of Nepal 2063(2007) has more progressive provisions. Article 20 has guaranteed the right of women and article 29(2) reads as “no one shall be exploited in the name of any custom, tradition and usage or in any manner whatsoever”. Moreover, untouchability practice is against the international instrument, Courts decision and the present Constitution of the country. So it is the responsibility of the Nepal government to eliminate this defective value.
The root cause of chhaupady custom is menstruation untouchability, by illegalized such custom it will easy to eliminate chhaupady custom. It is contextual to say “prevention is better than cure”. It is not reasonable of prohibition to touch by the body or hand to anything. To eliminate untouchability there should given awareness to scientific way about the menstruation flows.

1 comment:

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