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We are told to be respectful to others' traditions, but when the tradition is harming women and children, no one should remain silent.
So what is Chhaupadi? It is an isolation practice, forced upon menstruating women in the western part of Nepal. The tradition requires women to be kept outside of the house, and live in a tiny makeshift shed made for animals, during her period. The women are prohibited from joining the family, even eating inside their own house. They are not allowed to use a proper bathroom either.
During this time, women are forbidden to touch men or even to enter the courtyard of their own homes. They are barred from consuming milk, yogurt, butter, meat, and other nutritious foods, for fear they will forever mar those goods. The women must survive on a diet of dry foods, salt, and rice. They cannot use warm blankets and are allowed only a small rug; most commonly, this is made of jute (also known as burlap). They are also restricted from going to school or performing daily functions like taking a bath.
Giving birth also results in a ten to eleven-day banishment. Imagine you just gave birth but you can't even sleep in your own bed or get a warm blanket.
Yes, women die from it, just like 22 year old Gauri Kumari Bayak who was forced to sequester in a shed during Nepal's brutal January weather this year. She was found dead from smoke inhalation due to the fire she had to build to stay warm. Another young woman was killed by a snake bite, during summer. Rape, animal attacks and contracting diseases are also among the dangers these women face while staying in chhaupadi huts.
Although the Nepalese government passed a new law making it illegal 5 months before Gauri died, the grace period for the law prevented for anyone to be accountable for her death. Nepal also rectified the UN's CEDAW (Convention on Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women) in 1991. The convention prohibits all kinds of discrimination against women. Yet the practice continued. In 2005, the Supreme Court of Nepal outlawed the Chhaupadi. However, the practiced continued even after that. Finally, the Parliament of Nepal passed a law which criminalizes the menstrual exile with imprisonment up to 3 months or a fine to be paid. Sadly, none of these helped Gauri.
Unfortunately, despite the new law, many women still feel socially pressured to practice it, making the enforcement of the law ever more difficult. Because people of the region are taught that menstruating women will bring bad luck if you have any contact with them.
“It’s all part of the suffering and humiliation women have to endure because of harsh traditions,” said Pashupati Kunwar, who runs a small aid group to help women. “Domestic violence is still bad. Child marriage is still high. We are trying to convince people that times are changing, but superstition is still strong.” Photo Credit: http://www.iilsindia.com, www.spotlightnepal.com
1^Ghimire, Laxmi (May 2005). "Unclean & Unseen"
2^Gettleman, Jeffrey (June 2008). "Where a Taboo Is Leading to the Deaths of Young Girls"- New York Times