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Nepali Tradition Chaupadi Banishes Menstruating Girls and Women

Photographer: Narendra Shrestha

 

It was a cold winter in December 2016. Sixteen-year-old Roshani Tiruwa arrived home after collecting firewood from the jungle. She had her dinner and went to bed in a 'Chaupadi' hut next to her house since it was the third day of her menstruation period. The next morning she was found dead inside the hut. The teenage girl most likely suffocated, police said, after lighting a fire to keep warm in the hut.

 

'Chaupadi Pratha' is an ancient social tradition in Nepal that banishes girls and women from their home to makeshift sheds and huts during their menstruation period. The term 'Chaupadi' is a combination of the words 'Chau' (menstruation) and 'Padi' (hut), 'Pratha' means tradition. The custom is practiced by religious Hindu communities in some districts of western Nepal, especially in the far western Accham district, which is located 424 kilometers from the capital of Kathmandu. Girls and women are forced to stay in small huts or sheds built away from their homes, or even caves, for seven to nine days during their monthly period in following with the centuries-old ritual. They are also prohibited to participate in normal daily activities as they are considered 'impure'.

 

Elderly and devout practitioners of the tradition believe that the touch of menstruating girls and women will make men become ill, stop cattle from giving milk, and trees from bearing fruit and ultimately die. They are denied access to water taps and barred from using toilets and bathing stations at home, which forces them to go to jungle for defecation in the open air, use contaminated water sources and spend their nights in dirty and unsafe conditions. Rendered untouchables the menstruating girls and women are also not allowed to use the regular walking paths, nor community or home tabs. The practitioners hold the belief that Kalika devi, the Hindu goddess of power, will be furious should girls and women stay home during their monthly period which will result in family members falling ill, and other unpleasant consequences.

 

Roshani Tiruwa's case is not the first one. According to media reports, eight girls or women have died in the past ten years in Nepal while practicing the tradition. In August 2017, the Nepalese parliament passed a law criminalizing the 'Chaupadi' tradition. Offenders will be sentenced to three months in prison and a 30 USD fine. Various organizations and a new generation of young women and girls are fighting for change by holding various awareness campaigns such as radio programs, interactions between shamans, local women and members of their community, and giving reward packages for girls and women who stay at home during menstruation.

 

Nonetheless the tradition is still practiced in Nepal. 'Change doesn't come easily. The enforcement of the law alone cannot bring change, attitudes and beliefs need to be changed first', says 18-year-old Dhurba Timilsina, a member of a children's club in Accham district.