For a girl who belongs to a family that practices chhaupadi in Nepal, normal life halts the day she begins her monthly cycle. She leaves her home for the night and sleeps inside a cattle shed or a makeshift hut. Even something as simple as whom she is allowed to touch is bound to a list of rules that are meant to be followed until she remains in the shed.

Chhaupadi (banishment to a cattle shed or a makeshift hut) operates on the belief that menstruating women are impure. Two women from Kathmandu, Divya Shrestha and Nirmala Limbu, embark on a journey to far-flung areas in their country in a bid to understand this inhuman practice, which has to refused to die over the years. The first few scenes of the documentary Banished for Bleeding, a part of BBC’s Our World series, show us glimpses of their own lives, and how they haven’t been completely freed from restrictions since they got their first period.

In a revealing conversation, Shrestha asks her mother about the restrictions she grew up with. The mother rattles off a list of things they couldn’t do, such as sleep on the bed, go to the temple, touch certain things, and more. “People seemed to be disgusted by us if we were menstruating,” she explains, before going on to add that she never wanted her own daughter to fall into this trap.

The story line gets murkier as the women head far West. For example, in Dhangadhi, located on the border with Uttar Pradesh, a local woman points at a shed where women must spend the night when their monthly cycle starts. Their homes are locked so that they can’t get back in. Snake bites, unforgiving weather, a host of illnesses and attack from wild animals and drunk men are all real concerns.

Banished for Bleeding.

Shrestha and Limbu appear throughout the film, and are shown talking to locals and offering reasonable arguments against the superstitious practice. Nobody seems to know the exact origins of chhaupadi, except that it is god’s will and disobedience will lead to ill-health in the family.

In 2005, chhaupadi was outlawed by Nepal’s Supreme Court. The documentary serves as a grim reminder that formal law doesn’t always trump custom. In an unsettling scene, a girl who’s still new to everything and is spending the night away from home says that she’ll make her daughter go through this too because of tradition. The shots of girls with half-resigned faces as they talk about chhaupadi will probably haunt viewers the most. The beautiful landscape offers a stark contrast to the dark and lonely cattle sheds all around, posing a necessary question: does anyone deserve to be treated this way at all?

Nepal Youth Council/YouTube.