Nepal, situated in South Asia, is a patriarchal country where the main religion of practice is Hinduism. Most of its population, 90 percent in fact,( Providing Quality Reproductive Health in Nepal 1) lives in rural villages. Although many of these villages are developing, most lack even everyday necessities such as running water and food. Extended families live together in one or two story clay houses with a small courtyard, a cowshed, and if exceptionally fortunate, a small plantation. In such villages everyday Brahmin-Chhetri practices are all viewed in terms of purity and pollution. The most polluting and shameful (to a certain degree) natural event within this caste is childbirth. Nevertheless, it is what gives women their social identity. As childbirth is polluting yet integral, my research question is: If polluting, how is childbirth integral to a Brahmin-Chhetri woman's social identity within her village?
[...] For this reason a common saying, ‘people do what's etched on their forehead' is repeated over and over again in the villages alluding to this day. The 11th day signals the end of the sutak period on which day the woman bathes her child and herself, combs her hair, and changes into a fresh pharia (cotton sari) at the break of dawn. Thus begins the second stage, nwaran (naming). My mother described two additional stages to me. On the day of nwaran, the entire house will be polished and cleaned with a mixture of clay, water, and cow dung symbolizing the woman's resurgence into a pure state. [...]
[...] Since men, on the other hand, do not have natural functions hindering them, they are free to work and have more leisure time. This enables them to take part in ‘cultural' projects (such as working in the public domain). In this sense, women are seen as passive and men as active. Where as the roles of women are considered ascribed(not valued), the roles of men are considered achieved (valued). The second theory is Mary Douglas's Hindu Nature, Purity, and Pollution theory (1996). [...]
[...] Instead, it is placed on the ground, and only after she is alone will she begin to eat. She will then wash the bhada (plate) herself and leave it outside the cooking chamber to be taken inside by someone else. The intention of her seclusion is to protect others from the dangers of her pollution. The first time a girl menstruates she is locked up in a dark room, for 7-21 days, away from everyone, with the belief of concealing her sexuality in which is seen as an overwhelmingly dangerous rite of passage. [...]
[...] By no means is the implication that a woman who gives birth will have a high status- the suggestion, merely is that a woman who has borne a child, has given to her society, to her husband, to her affines, but most importantly to the continuation of her caste-which helps her attain more respect and rewards her with not a high status, but a relatively higher status than a woman who hasn't borne offspring and given to her society. A woman will gain even more respect should she bear a son as the villagers know that one day she will be served by her daughter-in-law and as required, cared for by her son. [...]
[...] Mobility between caste is virtually impossible as membership is inherited. The importance of this inheritance is that it is through the mother. Thus, in a sense, women, through giving birth, are the only entry into any caste. As Brahmin-Chhetri do not want any “impure blood” (Eriksen 236) entering their high caste, the purity of a woman becomes critical. She is in a constant state of protection because not only is her sexuality dangerous to purity of her caste, but it is especially dangerous to herself. [...]
Online readingwith our online reader
Content validatedby our reading committee