A Photographic Depiction of an Ancient Hindu Tradition

Posted on March 6, 2013 by

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Once a month, in rural Nepal, Hindu women are required to leave the house and go out on their own for a few days. This Hindu tradition called Chaupadi, is based on the fact that menstruating women are seen to be unclean. Menstruating women lose the ability to share the same water source, use kitchen untensils, and sleep in the house. Women generally leave the home and sleep in rudimentary huts, animal shelters, or caves. Documentary photographer Allison Shelley and writer Allyn Gaestel travelled on a grant from the Pullitzer Center for Crisis Reporting into rural Achham, Nepal to photograph and document some of these women.

The article and photo documentary titled, In Hindu Ritual, Nepali Women Are Banished Once a Month, consists of photos, stories, and commentary by the journalists. The pictures (as seen above) depict women on Chaupadi, the spaces they occupy, and mourning lost loved ones during Chaupadi. The pictures powerfully depict the intensity of Chaupadi. By showing women packed into caves, women in solitary huts, and women in animal shelters, the reader is able to see first hand what women go through during Chaupadi.

The pictures are accompanied by tragic stories of women and children who have lost their lives during Chaupadi. Of the terrifying stories of rape and death from the women of Achham, Nepal, two seem to stand out the reader. One woman on Chaupadi was killed by a fire she had built in the hut to stay warm. Another woman lost two young children during her time on Chaupadi. One child was bitten by a snake and the other was eaten by a jackal. These stories bring an ominous feeling of sympathy and sadness to the reader.

Both journalists entered the trip with sympathetic feelings for these women. Shelley claims that she was “shocked” when she first learned about the tradition of Chaupadi while researching global women’s health issues. Also, both journalists felt an extreme feeling of sadness when hearing about the tragic deaths and rapes that can happen while on Chaupadi. Although the practice of Chaupadi was outlawed in 2005, many Hindu’s continue to practice the tradition. The article and following comment section show how uneducated many Westerners are about practices of far away territories with different social and cultural norms.

The banishment of Chaupadi in 2005 shows the raging debate between human rights and health, and religious tradition. The women of Achham, Nepal who practice Chaupadi see it as a right of passing. Many of the women feel that it is God’s will and it must be done. Despite the tragic losses and hardships these women continue to practice this tradition as a part of their religion. Shelley states in the article, “We went in with a lot of sympathy for the girls- thinking they were just mute victims of this – but we realized that that’s not the way they see themselves.”

As is common known, media postings are able put a personalized context on any story. The two journalists use this article to  show the horrors of what can happen during Chaupadi, but also share the feelings of the women who practice it. The Journalists immersed themselves in this culture and researched it in depth so that they could share an honest depiction of this Hindu Tradition. While the authors are able to show the positives and negatives of Chaupadi, the article leaves the reader with a sense of sadness for the  women and the struggles they go through. The photographs and attached captions depict Chaupadi with somewhat of a negative context. The photographs show women with sad expressions, packed into caves, and mourning loved ones lost. From this article, it is easy to see the struggles the women who practice Chaupadi go through. The reader gains a sense of respect for these women because, despite their hardships these women believe in their religious tradition and continue to practice it despite the inherent dangers.

More pictures can be found on the article at the following link.

http://www.npr.org/blogs/pictureshow/2013/02/26/172983863/in-hindu-ritual-nepali-women-are-banished-once-a-month

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Posted in: Hinduism