Menstruation Jutho

Continuation from the last post

For a woman, jutho taboos surrounding menstruation can be challenging. I’ve written about this before in “A ‘Female’ Taboo” but I wanted to revisit it as I have experienced a few more things since then.

As I noted before, for me, a woman’s menstruation cycle is a very personal thing. It’s not something to be ashamed of, but it certainly isn’t something I’d like to announce to the world (although ironically, I’m writing about it on a blog, ha ha). This might be where my own personal feelings and Nepali culture greatly deviate, because although there are taboos affiliated with a woman’s period in Nepal there doesn’t seem to be embarrassment around others knowing that a woman is having it, since the taboos are enacted in such a way that everyone would know.

Case in point, during Dashain a cousin’s family came over to P’s family’s house to receive tikka from P’s grandfather. It was a cousin-sister and her two kids and her brother and his wife. They were making the rounds to the different family houses, however the brother’s wife had her period, so she couldn’t come in the living room where the family was giving tikka and had to sit in the hallway. It was obvious to everyone in the room why she had to sit outside, and not only did she have to miss out on receiving tikka and blessings from everyone for the year, she had to go from house to house sitting outside and being excluded, so everyone in the entire family would know she was menstruating. Perhaps the family didn’t care, but I really felt for her, and thanked my lucky stars that I didn’t have to go through the same thing, because I would feel mortified.

Right before Dashain, one of P’s cousins asked me if I knew of any medication that could delay the onset of her period. I asked why and she said that she was probably going to get hers right as Dashain tikka time would be in full swing. It was going to be her last Dashain in Nepal for a few years, and I am sure she didn’t want to miss out on the activities and gatherings.

“Would anyone know? What if you didn’t say anything?” I asked. That would have been my tactic if I was in the same situation.

“Well… if maiju [P’s mom] finds out, I might get in trouble.” She said. We didn’t talk about it afterward. She participated in the festival so I figured she sorted something out.

I’ve now spent several months with P’s family, so I’ve obviously gone through my “impure” time of the month while I was around them—handling food, sitting with everyone at the table, and no one has ever questioned anything. I’ve kept my mouth closed about it, so they probably never really knew when it happened, but they had to assume it did at some point, so I was a little surprised by P’s cousin’s comment about P’s mom scolding her if she participated in Dashain tikka while she was having her’s. Perhaps it’s easier for P’s mom to think about me in a different category when it comes to jutho as a foreigner, or maybe she is uncomfortable to bring up the topic with me, I’m not sure. Although it would be interesting to learn more about the taboos, it isn’t a topic I would eagerly bring up with P’s mom as I would hate to have menstruation jutho extended to me. I kind of like the policy of don’t ask, don’t tell we have going on right now.

But I’ve seen women perpetuate menstruation jutho on themselves—when a friend of mine got married a relative of the groom had her period during the ceremony and so she insisted on sitting outside the temple and peeking through a window while her husband and son were inside enjoying the festivities. It was only after we convinced her that the marriage was not taking place inside  the main temple, but in the breezeway/meeting area of the temple building that she felt comfortable coming inside to watch the ceremony. Had we been in Nepal she would probably have been completely excluded by family members, but here in the US no one was going to scold her.

Nepali Jiwan gave an example of living with a conservative Nepali family while she was doing a study abroad homestay and when they found out she was menstruating (I was wondering how—did they ask?) they included her in jutho taboos—she had to sit in another room and eat away from the family, and was scolded by a house worker when she touched the clothes washing water during her “impure” state.

Anyway—I guess I’m not really sure where I am going with this post except that I find the discussion of these taboos both interesting and humiliating.

Has anyone else ever run into menstruation taboos when dealing with their partner’s parents or extended family? What did you do?

Do you feel it is important to participate in the taboos when it comes to religious observance such as not entering a temple when you are having your period or would don’t ask, don’t tell?

34 responses to “Menstruation Jutho

  1. I’m Indian, not Nepali, but regarding how they know when it’s that time of the month? They ask, always. My mother in law sometimes asks me in advance if I’d be “okay” for a certain festival or auspicious event in the future. And it’s not easy to lie about it, someone (like the maid for example) will always find out! There is definitely medication available to delay the period, some girls take it before their weddings so as to be pure at that time :)

  2. I had the experience of having my MIL talking to her neighbor about how I was on my period. I was mortified. I just classified it under “private business is public gossip” in India, but I definitely didn’t like it. Then I found out about women being excluded from the kitchen and being told they had to wash their utensils separately in a bucket in the bathroom. I realized how much I’d been spared on that count.

    It’s hard to hide if there is no trashcan available to you other than the one in the kitchen. The maid will always know as well the person who collects the trash.

    I can see the taboo “working” (if that is the appropriate term for something so exclusionary!) in a joint family system where there were older women living in the house to do the cooking and clean-up while the younger women were on their periods, but otherwise it is very impractical.

  3. I got married few months ago. As Nepali wedding goes for few days, I got my period after the main ceremony. I didn’t know what to do so tell my new husband. He convinced me to tell his mum as there were going to be lots of ritual things happening. I was lucky my MIL told me not to tell anyone else and go on with the ceremony. Her words were “We can’t stop the wedding just because you had your period. So don’t tell anyone”. I was glad to hear that from her. I am not even sure what they really do in this situation. I am sure noone had moved wedding because bride as a period.

  4. Not only educated, but even most prminient knowledgable most modern elite class ladies still belive in it; they run away from hubbie when they need hubbie most ;children lose love their moms; its considered a bad omen spell

    • I’d disagree with that–I suppose my family would come into the ‘modern, educated, elite’ section of Nepali society and they do not participate in this practice. Some do, of course–but I think it would be wrong to say that most of the modern educated elite Nepali people still do this.

      • I disagree with Kay on this. Educated and liberal are two different things. I do not have the statistics to prove my point (and I bet you don’t either), but I have seen a lot of educated families in Kathmandu very strictly practicing these taboos. Also that being a guy (just like me), you will not have experienced it first hand to know the exact situation.

        • I am not a guy and I did live in Nepal till I was 12, so I do have first hand knowledge of this. Educated and liberal aren’t the same thing, but I think, in general, that education leads to becoming liberal. There are many educated and liberal families in Nepal that do not strictly adhere to this practice, just like there are educated and not-liberal families that do.

          • I disagree with kay on this one. just like nepalidawg said. most of my family are well educated, we live in Kathmandu and most of my cousins are professionals. We are also liberal in most things but at the end of the day, we dont eat food made by someone who is on period at home. outside you cant tell, so people ignore it nowdays but if u know you wouldnt.. Even abroad most younger ones disregard this practice but older ones still observe it. I think by educated and liberal, Kay means westernized family who dont want their kids to learn nepalese or want to forget their culture just coz they live in one of em developed countries. there is certainly some malpractices but i doubt most people have stopped following em.

            Regarding conversion to Hinduism, I have never heard of seen no ritual done to convert people from any tribe to Hinduism, there might be cleansing rituals but not conversion because Hindus also do the cleansing rituals themselves. Hinduism doesnt seek conversion, anyone could follow it but converting into it wouldnt make no sense.

            Hari OM

          • Sorry for the assumption. But since you left Nepal when you were 12, you did not experience any (or much) of it to know. I know there are families that are liberal but I would disagree with your claim of “most educated families” unless you have some statistics to prove your point. Another thing is you don’t need to be formerly (or highly) educated to be liberal, and I have very good examples in my family.

  5. It is absolutely NOT important to participate in taboos if you do not believe in them. This practice has died down in my family–as in, no one does it anymore. People in Nepal will still most likely not participate in religious festivals or enter temples, but they will sit down in the same dinner table and whatnot. As for my family that lives abroad (most of my extended family)–they’ve stopped this practice completely.
    What’s interesting is that my maid who is a Naga (from the Naga tribe) is married to my driver who is a Nepali /Newar–when she married him, she had to ‘convert’ from a tribal to a Hindu Newar and one of the things they did was to put her in a mud shack with no windows when she was on her period. She said she developed an allergic reaction and almost died!

    • Wow. that’s interesting about the conversion. I know a few people (both Brahman Nepalis and foreigners) who are married to Newar men, but I never heard of them having to “convert.” Did the Nepali Newar immigrate to India where you live? How did he end up there?

      • His grandparents emigrated to Assam, India and he moved to Delhi in search of a better paying job–still owns land and a store in Assam. I’d never heard of anything like this either!

  6. What you said it so true: “the discussion of these taboos [is] both interesting and humiliating.” I am fascinated by them but I feel a little embarrassed talking about jutho, especially menstruation jutho.

    I think the don’t ask, don’t tell can be a great system when it comes to getting periods in Nepal. But even though I don’t believe that I’m impure when I have my period, I do sometimes feel guilty not telling someone who I know cares about it. I also don’t know if I could bring myself to go into a temple while I’m menstruating (although we’re prohibited from going inside a lot of temples anyway because we’re not Hindu. oh well…). I guess some aspects of Nepali culture have really rubbed off on me.

    My host aamaa found out I had my period when I told her. She had been asking for quite some time if I had gotten my period, when I was going to get it, etc. My periods were pretty irregular at that time (I think from traveling. does that happen to anyone else?), so I hadn’t had one in a few months. I told her partly because I knew that if she found out and I hadn’t said anything, I would have been in big trouble. I also kind of wanted to experience what it was like to be jutho. It was informative to do it once but I’m not too keen on doing it again.

    • The first time I visited Nepal and was menstruating (at 14), I took on the don’t ask, don’t tell policy. I found it humiliating and offensive that people should know when I have my period, and mark me as impure.
      Funnily enough, the more I look into the culture (and the more I discover that patriarchal ideology and symbolism goes much deeper than I first thought), the more I can swallow following menstrual taboos in Nepal. To paraphrase a reader on my blog – it’s not my fight, my culture, or my place to judge. I’ve seen cousins who come from more liberal families who don’t follow the taboo, follow it when they visit a more conservative family member’s house, and that’s the policy I’ve adopted. I too feel uncomfortable if I’m staying with family who do follow menstruation jutho and I don’t tell them (in my case that’s all the older generation of my family, who are pretty conservative). And I feel way more comfortable when I’m just following the taboo in their homes (although it took me a few months to really understand where I could and couldn’t go, what I could and couldn’t touch, and get the hang of it. It’s harder because the strictness of the taboo varies greatly between families. Many awkward cultural mistakes in that time!). It means something to them, I’m only there temporarily anyway, and while I’m there, I feel I should make the effort to understand and ‘assimilate’ (if that’s the appropriate word) before judging. And they would be horrified, of course, if they ever found out I’d been hiding it (it’s a tricky thing to hide when the toilets don’t always flush!)
      I wouldn’t be as comfortable though, if I ever had to visit Nepal with close male family members from Australia. The western habit of hiding your period would kick in big time, because that’s what I’m used to around them. It’s much less humiliating with relatives in Nepal, who expect me to announce my periods (and don’t see any shame in the announcement itself), who don’t know me in a western context, and who I don’t have any ongoing daily relationships with (in that I only see them about twice every 15 years). Also, if I ever actually married a Nepali person and lived in Nepal with his family, I would find it more difficult to assimilate as a (returned?) migrant than as a visitor, because that would be my life for the forseeable future, that would be my home, and I could just never feel at home following a practice that clashes pretty heavily with my sense of myself as a woman. If I ever found myself in that situation, I think the battle lines would be re-drawn…

  7. In Hindi and Urdu there is the term jooTha, and I have only heard it used in presence in reference to ritual contamination of food, food that has been partially eaten or left touched.

    Since many Hindi speaking Hindus also maintain menstrual segregation practices, I wonder if they call this jooTha, too? It must be that the words are cognates???

    For South Asian Muslims, since they have Hindu ancestors, there are a lot of Hindu cultural retensions in daily life, and though not everyone practices avoidance of jooTha food or drink or utensils, many people do.

    There is also avoidance of “baasi khaana” which literally means stale food or food that is beginning to go bad, but in terms of ritual purity, food becomes baasi when it is leftovers of any kind. Eating leftovers or re-heating is taboo because the food is baasi and therefore can cause wind, health problems, and even introduce negative moods into the mind. As I said, not everyone practices this, but it is something that I have come across before. It means food must be prepared fresh for all meals and snacks during the day, although certain foods (like sweets, pickles, fried dry namkeens) are inherently long-lasting and can’t become baasi in the same way as meat or vegetable stews (“curries”).

    Have you seen experienced the concept of baasi (however it might be termed) among Nepalis?

    • Old food is also called “baasi khanna” in Nepali. At work, we order in lunch everyday, and the typical thing that comes is daalbhaat (rice, daal, and some kind of vegetable dish). One day, the rice was kind of hard and lumpy, and one of my co-workers called it “baasi khanna.” I have met some stricter Brahmans and Chhetris who will not eat leftovers (particularly rice) and must cook a new pot of it every day.

      • Older people in my family in Nepal also won’t eat baasi bhat or dhal, and as much as possible avoid baasi curries.
        I think it has something to do with the fact that the longer food is left lying around, the more chances it has of being ritually contaminated, along with all the practical considerations Lucky Fatima has mentioned above. I’ve seen many older people in rural areas eat even fresh rice as quickly as possible, without talking or looking around. Eating is potentially very ‘polluting’ because you’re opening your mouth and literally ingesting something which becomes a part of your blood and flesh. Apparently by eating as quickly as possible, people lessen the chances of impurities entering their body (particularly if they’re higher caste or if they’re the subject of envy from other people in the village and feel under threat). Another example would be infants in Nepal, who are considered to be more ritually ‘purer’ than adults. I’ve seen it time and time again in my family – if an adult bites their nail and touches something, that object becomes jutho, but if a toddler puts a nut in their mouth and returns it to the plate, it’s not considered as jutho as it would be for the adult. This begins to change when children really start eating solid food…once they enter the world of solid, cooked food, which inevitably increases the chances of impurities entering their body, children have to be subject to the same ritual controls and jutho taboos as adults in order to maintain their purity. Starting with the rice-feeding (paasni) ceremony, most Hindu ceremonies involve some kind of food taboo/rule/focus – such rules and ceremonies are crucial markers of a person’s gradual initiation into adulthood (and the ensuing responsibility to uphold appropriate rules for a person of their caste and gender).

        • This might actually explain something to me… I’m always in awe of how much food P’s family eats, but also how FAST they eat it. For a culture that puts so much emphasis on food, I never understood why the couldn’t savor it. I love the European concept of sitting at a table and taking hours to eat a meal because everyone is deeply enjoying the food and the company, and spend time talking and joking and drinking and digesting then eating more.

          When I sit down at a table with P’s parents it seems to be a race to see who can finish in 30 seconds or less, and I’m always the loser because I start conversations, and talk while I’m eating. Perhaps this is why they go so fast?

          • Maybe…my GM in particular also has a “don’t talk while you eat” ethos. Might be a cultural habit that’s stuck around, even if people aren’t consciously concerned with impurities anymore.

  8. Oh, once I took a linguistics course that included a study of Rromani language and culture, and it seems that although Rroma do not practice any form of Hinduism per se, one of the core components of their culture is the Hindu cultural retention of maintenance of ritual purity rules in daily life. Though specific rules vary among Rroma from group to group, the general idea is that bodily fluids from other humans are impure, so eaten food and used vessels, bottles, smoked cigarettes etc are impure using them causes ritual contamination. So you will find that Rroma smoke cigarettes by inhaling the smoke through a funnel made with the hand instead of touching one’s lips to the cigarettes, just like one sees in India, and pouring drink from the bottle into the mouth rather than touching it to the lips, just like in India. Also, the floor is contaminated, so any food that falls on the floor is impure. The lower half of the body of women is impure, so women must keep their legs covered (hence the long skirts), and menstruating women are impure. Anyway, it is just interesting to see these notions maintained over 1,000 years since their ancestors left South Asia. Also, European stereotypes of “dirty Gypsies” are based on deep racism since in actuality Rroma maintain these extreme forms of cleanliness —at least extreme for us filthy, inherently jooTho Europeans, who eat food that has fallen on the floor, kiss our dogs on the mouth even though dogs can (and do) lick their own genitals, and swap spit in food with no cares.

    • I’m about to write a post on Indo-European languages and am planning to mention the Romanis. That’s so interesting that their rules and ideas about impurity have lasted, even though the started migrating out of the Indian subcontinent so long ago.

  9. I hit this same dilemma when my husband I got married. He told me that his mom wanted to make sure I was not menstruating during out wedding ceremony. I am pretty irregular so this request was CRAZY to me. We have one day to pull this off with your family in the states. What do you want me to do? Fortunately, I did not have my period during that time. If I would have I would have lied through my teeth. My MIL is old school in certain ways and my husband told me how she would make separate food for herself and eat after everyone else etc… I am sorry this is NUTS, especially when they were living in another country for years. I guess it is just done. On the flip side his sister’s said nothing to me about it.

    It is embarrassing and I think this humiliates women into being ashamed of what naturally occurs. Without our periods existing, we would not be able to have the children so highly valued by South Asian society. It is a double-edge sword.

    • These practices started long time ago and they kinda made sense in those days. They didn’t have tampons or pads back in the days, not even underwear for women, so when they were menstruating, it would be seen on their clothes and smelled since they didn’t have perfumes, and obviously didn’t look good. Imagine you are at a restaurant and all of a sudden you see a red patch appearing on the server’s cloth, you wouldn’t want that. Also for the same reason, it would be easier for the family members to find out that you are going through the period. Women were so worked up in the house and kitchen, they could actually have a break from cooking and cleaning every four days in a month. So it was kinda in their favor too. There was no feeling of humiliation, it was also viewed as a natural practice.

      However, they failed to modify the culture as the time went by. These days it is not necessary, and rather humiliating to women to ask them to not touch food because they are menstruating. I am sure this will not be there much longer, specially if you have a understanding family.

      But life in many villages in Nepal is still not much changed since medieval times, due to the lack of exposure to the outside world. These practices will remain there for I wonder how long.

      • There’s a pretty obvious additional reason that no one’s talked about yet, which is that washing your hands after you use the toilet here in Nepal is considered optional at best, and a strange and bizarre concept by many. My foster sisters were shocked that I use toilet paper even for “short” toilet usage, and that I therefore wash my hands (with soap) every time I pee. And these are highly educated, very “modern” (their word, not mine) women in their mid-20’s who run a school in Kathmandu, so… Think for a second, would you want to eat something made by someone on their period who doesn’t really wash their hands after peeing? The not washing your hands actually makes a lot of sense if you consider that many of these folks grew up or live in a place where many “toilets” are holes in the ground and you have to carry any water you use 10-30 minutes up a mountain- would you rather drink it or spill it on the ground (which is basically what washing your hands requires, right?)? Icky? Yes. Very different from Western traditions- also yes. Logical? Yeah, kinda!!

        And the other side side of the coin, too, is we could ask why we as western women are ashamed of our periods- every woman has them roughly once a month- why be embarrassed about it? (Mind you, I definitely say that rhetorically, since I am definitely following the don’t ask, don’t tell policy here in Nepal, too, but… I can see why it could be different!!)

  10. I asked on the Word Reference forums if jooTha is used in Hindi/Urdu for any forms of ritual impurity besides food. The answer was no, jooTha is only for food.

    I am still suspect that the words jooTha and jooTho are cognates. In Hindi jooTha is written as जूठा . I am just wondering if in Nepali, it is h=the same retroflex aspirated Th or not?

  11. झुठा(jhoo-taa) means “infected” or “contaminated” with something(usually bodily fluid).

    Eg of usage: Group of people drinking a litre bottle of pepsi. Everyone drinks by pouring it from a height without touching the lips. One member accidentally touches his lips to the bottle while drinking. Other member reacts as “waah, kar diya jhoo-taa tune” which can translate to “f’ing great!! now you’ve contaminated it for the rest of us”.

    jooTha and jooTho are the same words but their pronunciation(dialect) changes according to the region.

    That menstruation outcast thing is a northern phenomenon. In south india, it is practiced by a particular temple meant only for the male species. Only men and girls who have not reached puberty can enter that temple. The indian news channels have sensationalized the issue to ridiculous heights.




    My argument: Why should there not be a men-only temple? Indian women have their own train compartments, special trains, their own reserved bus seats, job reservations etc etc. Is that not gender discrimination?

    • Yes, I didn’t want to get too into detail about the linguistic side, but jooTha is one of those Indic words that has variation on which consonants are aspirated based on dialect. In Urdu it is actually most commonly neither jooTha nor jhooTha (which also means liar) but actually jhooTa, though Urdu speakers of Punjabi background will say jooTha. I do believe the standard promoted spelling in Hindi would be jooTha जूठा. I learned this in the original thread in the Indo-European section of the word reference forums, just in case any other language buffs want to see:

      (hope this doesn’t end up in spam cuz I stuck a link in it)

  12. I don’t understand the deep intellectual conversations over stale food. What is so difficult about it to understand? It is unhygienic for consumption. Does refrigeration machine grow on trees? What is the meaning of using the local word “bhasi khanna”? It simply means stale food. Indian whether is harsh. What is so f’ing intellectual about it?

    This reminds of india in per-partition times and how “anything and everything caused irritation”. It was regarding the tendency of some people in North America( and possibly in Europe too) displaying resentment toward Indians by finding fault with every little thing, even trivial stuff.

    • The bloggers Nepali Jiwan and Americanepali were describing the concept of jootho and I found it interesting and added to the convo my observations on baasi khaana avoidance. It isn’t a criticism. Just an observation. Food which is not fresh is ‘tamasik’ according to the food-health associations of ayurveda, and it makes perfect sense. Refrigeration is a very new phenomenon, and these thousands of years old food-health associations are practices which preserve health and prevent illness. Since many people live in conditions where electricity goes out, especially during the summer, it makes sense that even people with access to cold storage of leftover food would still avoid it.

      • Just a FYI. A significant part of indian population is not economically stable enough to throw away stale food or food that is more than a day old. They do eat it. Even in cities(my household included), we keep rice in the freezer for 36 hours max after which it begins to loose taste and starts deteriorating. Curry hardly survives more than 24 hours in the freezer. Even if it does not smell foul, it will no longer be enjoyable eating.

        The general rule which is followed by many here is that you do not serve food that is more than 12 hrs old to guests. The non-indian guests might not find any difference in its taste but the indian guests can tell its age by tasting or by just looking at the food. Indians live in a close-knit community and our gossips spread faster than wild fire.

  13. I am finding these discussions to be very informational and hence helpful. I will be getting married to a Nepali man in less than four months and I want to learn about his culture before we travel to his country. Thank you all!

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