July 21, 2018
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Chhaupadi custom in western Nepal shuns, endangers menstruating women

Kathmandu, Oct 17 (efe-epa).- On a cold winter's evening in December 2016, Roshani Tiruwa, 16, arrived home after collecting firewood from the jungle. She ate dinner and went to bed in a 'Chhaupadi' hut next to her house since it was the third day of her menstruation period.

The next morning she was found dead. The teenage girl most likely suffocated, police said, after lighting a fire to keep warm in the hut, the openings of which were closed to keep in heat but also trapped the smoke inside.

'Chhaupadi Pratha' is an ancient tradition in Nepal that banishes girls and women from their homes to makeshift sheds and huts during their menstruation period. The term 'Chhaupadi' is a combination of the words 'Chhau' (menstruation) and 'Padi' (hut), and 'Pratha' means tradition.

The custom is practiced by devout 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 - or even in caves - built away from their homes, for seven to nine days during their monthly period according to the centuries-old ritual. They are also prohibited from participating in normal daily activities as they are considered 'impure'.

Elderly and devout practitioners believe that Kalika devi, the Hindu goddess of power, will be furious should girls and women stay home during their monthly period, and that their touch will make men ill, stop cattle from giving milk, and even stop trees from bearing fruit, leading them to wither and die.

They are denied access to water taps and barred from using toilets and bathing stations at home, which forces them to go into the jungle to defecate in the open air, leaving them vulnerable to the bites of poisonous snakes - another mortal danger for women partaking in Chhaupadi.

The restrictions also leave them at risk of using contaminated water sources and spending their nights in dirty and unsafe conditions.

Rendered untouchable, the menstruating girls and women are also not allowed to use the regular walking paths.

Roshani Tiruwa's case is not the first one. According to media reports, eight girls or women have died in the past 10 years in Nepal while practicing the tradition.

In August 2017, the Nepalese parliament passed a law criminalizing the 'Chhaupadi' tradition. Offenders will be sentenced to three months in prison and a $30 fine.

Various organizations and a new generation of young women and girls are fighting for change by holding awareness campaigns through radio programs, meetings 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 persists 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.

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