Kathmandu (AsiaNews) - Hindu leaders have banned thousands of Hindu female students from going to school when they menstruate because they are deemed impure. Once limited to confessional schools, now the ban covers many public schools in Nepal's western and northern districts. A sham for many a Nepali religious leader, this controversial practice has victimised thousands of female teenagers and young women.
Speaking to AsiaNews, Hindu leader and educator Chintamani Yogi said, "such a practice is not part of Hindu tradition". Anyone who uses religion to impose it is lying.
The ruling by religious authorities in the western and northern districts has raised eyebrows in the government as well. For this reason, it "is taking action to avoid these phony practices, but it will be a gradual process," Nepali Education Minister Madhav Poudel said.
According to the minister, the ban related to female menstruation is unfortunately prevalent in many parts of the country, including the poorest areas of urban centres.
Poudel explained that his ministry does not have accurate data on how many schools have joined the ban, but it is estimated that thousands of girls and young women are victims of these absurd traditions.
The Catholic Church has been on the forefront in the fight against religious traditions that discriminate against women, especially the Society of Jesus, which runs hundreds of schools and colleges in the country.
The Jesuits have been involved in local education for over 30 years, Fr William Robins said. However, the number of their schools and teachers is too small to counter in an effective way Hindu religious bans.
"We are doing our best," he said, "but we are few in number and cannot reach all parts of the country."
One of the cases that has caused a lot controversy in Nepal involves Sambhusunanda Secondary School in Jukot-7 (Bajura District, western Nepal).
For several weeks, "Hindu religious authorities have prevented not only female students but also teachers from coming to class during their menstrual period," said School Principal Tula Ray Rokaya.
Similarly, "teachers are not able to stand up to religious leaders," said schoolteacher Durgeshwori Shah.
"We are very embarrassed," she added, because "For seven days a month, Hindu leaders do not allow us to go into the classroom and to touch the books used by our students."
Few women or female students complain about it, fearing retaliation, she added.
"The whole community has threatened to expel anyone from the village if they do not comply with the ban, including our parents," said Nita Rokaya, a young student. "Unfortunately, we are forced to endure this kind of discrimination."
In view of the situation, for the young woman, the international community should take up the cause of Hindu women's right to an education, regardless of gender."