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60 Days in a Year in Cowshed - Battling Cultural Taboos in Uttarakhand's Pothing Village

03:42 PM Jul 19, 2023 IST | Charkha Feature
60 days in a year in cowshed   battling cultural taboos in uttarakhand s pothing village

Dolly Gadiya, Uttarakhand | Although menstruation is a natural process for women and girls, it continues to be associated with deep-rooted stigma, imposing daily challenges, and hindering their growth. Lack of scientific menstrual awareness and management subjects adolescent girls in most parts of India to seclusion and torment within their own homes, making it a harrowing experience. In villages that are tucked away in the hilly states, the situation is quite shocking.

Disha (name changed), a 16-year-old from Pothing village in Bageshwar district, Uttarakhand, shares her distressing experience, “At times, I hide from my parents while I menstruate because it’s torture to stay in a cowshed. Often, I go through severe cramps, but as I don’t inform my parents about getting periods, I refrain from sharing my pain. But I cannot put up this act every month because my mother ends up suspecting pregnancy.”


Culturally in India, women and girls still face discrimination and inhumane treatment during menstruation, and Uttarakhand is no exception. The practices around menstruation differ in each village but there are certain rules across the region that menstruating girls and women have to follow. 

In Pothing village, for instance, when a girl gets her period for the first time, she is banished to a cowshed outside the house for 21 days. The duration progressively decreases to 15 days, 11 days, 7 days, and finally, 5 days for subsequent periods, which remains constant throughout their lives. Consequently, these girls spend a total of 60 days each year eating, sleeping, and studying with cattle. During this time, they not only stay away from their homes but are also forbidden from using the household toilet. "The most dreaded times are the bitterly cold months of December and January when we have to go to the river at 4-5 in the morning to take a bath. We try to use fewer blankets during winter nights as washing them every day is quite laborious," reveals Nisha Gadiya, another adolescent girl from the village.


These practices have turned the menstrual cycle into a traumatic experience for adolescent girls as they fear staying alone outside their homes.  “Younger girls are usually afraid to sleep alone away from home in the cowshed at night. When we were young, we dreaded being imprisoned for a few days each month, as if we had committed a crime.  We would cry alone at night, thinking how good it would have been if our period had never come at all,” expresses 17-year-old Maya from Pothing.


The villagers firmly believe that menstruating women are impure, and any physical contact during this period will make the other person fall sick. Purification rituals involving cow urine are performed to counter such perceived impurities. The superstitions associated with menstruation know no bounds in these remote villages. Bhagwati Devi, an 81-year-old woman from the same village, explains, "My mother told me that once a woman became mentally unstable when she entered a temple during her periods. Anyone who opposes the rules faces consequences. We don’t want to make our gods angry."


While highlighting the deep-rooted nature of these superstitions, Chandra Gadia, a teacher from the village, shares, “There is an urgent need to challenge these ‘man’-made laws. It is imperative to put an end to any form of violence inflicted upon women and adolescent girls in the name of customs and rituals," emphasizes Chandra.

On the other hand, a 31-year-old woman from the village, Pushpa Devi, shares a different perspective. She reveals that no such traditions were ever followed in her maternal home where girls live their lives just like any other day, and no one pays attention to their menstrual cycle. However, upon coming to her in-laws' house, she was confronted with discriminatory practices against girls and women during menstruation. Pushpa's contrasting experience sheds light on the stark disparities within the same culture and emphasizes the need for change and gender equality in addressing menstruation.

In the pursuit of promoting equality, it is disheartening to witness how girls in Pothing Village, and many others like them, continue to be deprived of the basic support and conducive environment they deserve as they come of age. The name of faith and culture should not be a veil to deny these adolescent girls their fundamental human rights.

The need for comprehensive menstrual education, access to hygienic sanitary products, and an end to discriminatory practices is paramount. Advocacy and awareness programs should be implemented, not only in Pothing Village but throughout the region, to combat these deep-seated taboos and foster a society that embraces menstrual health and dignity.

The article was first published in Daily Pioneer.

The writer is a recipient of article the Sanjoy Ghose Media Awards 2022. Share your feedback on

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