Women’s monthly exile continues

  • chhaupadi tradition
- Agence France-Presse, SURKHET

Mar 5, 2017-

The small thatched hut in western Nepal has no walls to keep out the cold. Inside is a raised platform where Pabitra Giri sleeps during her period, banished from her home by a centuries-old Hindu ritual.

Below the hut, known as a chhau goth, Giri lights a small fire to keep her warm. The smoke rises up to the small cramped area where she sleeps, making her eyes water.

“We think that if we don’t follow chhaupadi bad things will happen and if we do, it [the gods] will favour us. I feel it does good, so I follow it during my periods,” Giri, 23, explained.

“Now I am used to it. I used to be afraid in the beginning because I was away from my family during dark nights and the place is like this,” Giri said gesturing around her.

The practice is linked to Hinduism and considers women untouchable when they menstruate. 

They are banished from the home--barred from touching food, religious icons, cattle and men--and forced into a monthly exile sleeping in basic huts. 

In some areas, women are also made to spend up to a month in the chhau goth after they have given birth.

Two women recently died while following chhaupadi--one of smoke inhalation after she lit a fire for warmth, while the other death is unexplained. These incidents have spurred fresh impetus to end the practice. Chhaupadi was banned a decade ago, but new legislation currently before Parliament will criminalise the practice, making it an imprisonable offence to force women to follow the ritual.

“Women were accepting chhaupadi as tradition. After defining chhaupadi an offence by law the tradition will be discouraged saving rights and lives of many women,” Krishna Bhakta Pokhrel, a lawmaker pushing the bill, told AFP. 

But previous attempts to stop chhaupadi have failed to address the deep superstitious beliefs that underpin it. 

Even in the capital Kathmandu, three in four homes practise some form of restriction on women during their periods, usually banning them from the kitchen and prayer room, said Pema Lhaki, a women’s right activist who has campaigned for years to end chhaupadi.

Most attempts to end the ritual have focused on destroying the chhau goths but that hasn’t stopped women being banned from their homes--instead, in some areas, it has seen women forced to sleep in even more rudimentary huts or even outside, Lhaki said. 

“Until we make the woman herself make the decision, the destruction of menstrual huts is more for external purposes. The menstrual huts should remain. Success is when they remain but they don’t go into them,” she said, accusing the government of encouraging the chhau goth to be destroyed to meet quotas set by international donors. 

In a village a few miles from where Giri lives, Khagisara Regmi is considering building a chhau goth.

Published: 05-03-2017 08:58

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