Poulomi Basu | A Ritual of Exile: Blood Speaks


Country of origin: India
Project location: Nepal
Program: Magnum Foundation Fund
Year: 2016

A Ritual of Exile documents the rituals and practices that subjugate women throughout South Asia under the guise of religion. This project details the practice of Chaupadi in remote Western Nepal, where menstruating women are exiled to makeshift huts because of the belief that their blood is impure and renders them “untouchables.” A polluting agent to be feared and shunned, their touch is believed to bring calamity and sickness to men, even to animals.

Women agree to be subjugated because of folk tales of men trembling and falling ill because of their poisonous blood. Women follow this ritual out of the dual fear of sin and of mortal men, as one young woman explained to me: “It’s for God! God creates human being. They will get mad if we do not obey the rules. Also, our brothers will get mad.”

The systematic subjugation of women is shocking. Mothers who have just given birth must enter a hut with their newborn, unable to clean themselves and risking infection. This project shows how rituals keep issues such as menstruation shrouded in mystery and taboo, which leads to the further subjugation of women. Education alone cannot improve the lives of women. For true empowerment, if must be linked to better sanitation and menstrual hygiene management so that the women can live with dignity.