June 14, 2013

WOMEN IN NEPAL SUFFER MONTHLY OSTRACIZATION

[Communities believe that to break the tradition would bring devastating bad luck: crops would fail, animals would die, snakes would fall from the ceiling. The imagined consequences are so dire that few dare to test stopping, even when the practice brings deadly consequences. Women have died from asphyxiation or burned to death when they built fires in the cramped sheds to shield from the Himalayan winter. Others have suffered rape and deadly snakebites and jackal attacks.]
ACHHAM, Nepal — Next to an abandoned stable now used to store firewood, a reluctant young mother crouched to pass through a tiny door into a dark, musty room. Barely looking at her baby, she glanced around the mud walls at the place she was raped. It was not strange for her to be in this space, haunted as it was with violent memories, because she still sleeps here each month when she is menstruating.
Chaupadi is the ritual isolation of menstruating women. It is a tradition practiced in Achham, a district in the remote Far Western region of Nepal. Each month, women sleep outside their homes in sheds called “goths,” in stables or in caves. They are deemed impure and treated as untouchable. They eat separately from their families, cannot enter their homes and often have to wash at a separate tap.

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The practice has roots in Hinduism, though many scholars in Kathmandu, the capital, consider chaupadi a bastardization of the Vedic precept that women sleep apart from their husbands during menstruation. But in Achham the majority of women still practice this monthly separation.
Communities believe that to break the tradition would bring devastating bad luck: crops would fail, animals would die, snakes would fall from the ceiling. The imagined consequences are so dire that few dare to test stopping, even when the practice brings deadly consequences. Women have died from asphyxiation or burned to death when they built fires in the cramped sheds to shield from the Himalayan winter. Others have suffered rape and deadly snakebites and jackal attacks.
It takes two days to drive to Achham from Kathmandu, and most people don’t bother. The impoverished district is better known for sending migrants south to India than for drawing more cosmopolitan Nepalis in. It is in this isolation that the chaupadi practice became entrenched.
The practice has gained some national attention and is widely denounced by women’s rights activists. In 2005, the Supreme Court of Nepal deemed the practice illegal, but the distant court decision has had little impact on the daily lives of women in Achham.
More influential has been the slow spread of awareness that comes with increased connectivity. The construction of roads and the implementation of solar power in remote villages have led to the slow permeation of televisions and cellphones that offer a window into other worlds where chaupadi is not taken for granted.
Countless organizations have also campaigned against the practice through radio shows, awareness campaigns in schools and town meetings, and by declaring villages chaupadi free.
But social change is plodding because faith in the tradition runs deep. In only a few villages have women started sleeping inside when they are menstruating, but in many villages there is a growing discussion about the monthly ostracization. Some girls who hear messages in school want to quit the tradition but are restricted by more conservative parents. Some families stopped the practice, but when bad luck followed, it reignited their faith in the old ways.
And some, like the young mother who was raped, cannot imagine life without it. “Things are done according to tradition here,” she said.
If she has a daughter, she said, “I won’t do anything different — I’ll send her to the goth.”
@ The New York Times

IN DELHI DEUBA SAYS, ‘NO WIDESPREAD ANTI-INDIA SENTIMENT IN NEPAL’

[His remarks come at a time when sections of the NC, considered a traditional ally of India, have engaged in rhetoric against Indian ‘interventionism’. The party’s president, Sushil Koirala, is known to harbour resentment against India for what he perceives as Delhi’s unwillingness to support him to become Prime Minister earlier this year, though it was former PM Baburam Bhattarai and the Madhesi parties who rejected his name.]
By Prashant Jha & Sujay Mehdudia
Wrapping up his five-day India visit, Nepal’s three-time Prime Minister and Nepali Congress (NC) senior leader, Sher Bahadur Deuba, has brushed aside the perception that there was widespread ‘anti-India sentiment’ in Nepal. For its part, India, which laid out the red carpet for Mr. Deuba, has sent a clear signal of support to ‘democratic forces’ and asked NC to get its act together.
“Nepal has an open border with India. Many Nepalis, particularly Hindus, come to India for pilgrimage. Nepalis come here to study. And everyone in Nepal, including my wife, watches Hindi films," said Mr. Deuba at an interaction with reporters at the Press Club of India in the capital. He added that India has had a role in all major political changes in Nepal — in 1951, 1990, and in 2005 when parties and Maoists signed an understanding in Delhi.
His remarks come at a time when sections of the NC, considered a traditional ally of India, have engaged in rhetoric against Indian ‘interventionism’. The party’s president, Sushil Koirala, is known to harbour resentment against India for what he perceives as Delhi’s unwillingness to support him to become Prime Minister earlier this year, though it was former PM Baburam Bhattarai and the Madhesi parties who rejected his name.
India’s message
India’s key message was that Nepal must hold ‘elections by November 2013’ in order to consolidate ‘multi-party democracy and republican system’. For this purpose, ‘Nepal’s president, the interim election government and parties’ had to work together. “Everyone, from top to bottom in the Indian establishment, wants us to have elections. Any doubt in this regard is now dispelled”, said a Nepali political source.
In what could be seen as an effort to ‘balance’ the Maoist strength in Nepali polity, India also conveyed to Mr. Deuba the ‘need for democratic and moderate forces to maintain unity’. NC, the former PM was told, ‘must bear responsibility of taking forward the democratic process in Nepal’ as it was the ‘bulwark of democracy’. Fractured between Mr. Koirala and Mr. Deuba’s factions, India also asked NC to ‘remain united, and not publicly voice their intra-party differences in this crucial phase of democratic transition’.
At the same time, Delhi alerted the NC to rising aspirations of marginalised groups. Interlocutors are understood to have told the former NC PM that it was ‘necessary to work with other democratic forces for inclusive political and social change’. Newer political groups fighting for inclusion have closer ties the Maoists, and the NC is seen as upholding ‘status quo’. NC has been lobbying with India to use its leverage with Madhesi parties to switch sides, while India has reiterated its message that the onus lies on NC to reach out and work with other forces.
Congress-Congress ties
But Mr Deuba was ‘very happy’ with the reception he got in New Delhi. He met PM Manmohan Singh, UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi, External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid, Commerce and Industry Minister Anand Sharma, National Security Advisor Shiv Shanker Menon, and leaders from other political parties.
The meeting with Ms. Gandhi, who was accompanied by senior leader Karan Singh and Mr. Sharma, assumes significance as she had not met two earlier Maoist visitors from Nepal — Maoist chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal last month, and former PM Baburam Bhattarai in October 2011.
When asked about whether any meaning could be read in this, a senior Indian official source told The Hindu, “It indicates that the Congress party and the Nepali Congress have age-old strong ties, and those relations are still given high priority. The UPA chair is not a public employee and is free to choose who she meets.” Ms. Gandhi had also met NC president, Mr. Koirala, when he visited Delhi in 2011.