In 2005, the Supreme Court of Nepal banned Chhaupadi – an age old practice of banishing menstruating women to huts/cowsheds because they are ‘impure’. Between 2005 and 2018, at least 13 females (girls/women) were reported to have died while observing the practice.
In 2017, media reports said the New Criminal Code Bill was looking to criminalise anyone who would force women to practice Chhaupadi – NRS 3,000 fine and a three month jail term. The Criminal Code came into effect in August, 2018. In February, a 21 year old died due to suffocation. In January of the same year, a mother observing the same and her two sons died – both times due to suffocation.
In June, 2019, former Miss Nepal World Shrinkhala Khatiwada ‘experienced Chhaupadi‘ – she spent a night in a Chaughar. On 29th September, she shared her experience on social media – by 4:00 p.m. 3oth September, the video had a 112,000 views.
In a 6 minute vlog, Ms. Khatiwada explains how we have always heard about it, but a first hand experience is different. She takes an awareness approach rather than critical, and tries to understand rather than explain. As she understands, so do we, and perhaps are able to relate more.
She speaks of the issue, and how it has been normalised within their communities. For them, they don’t know better – an issue change-makers usually have a hard time grappling with. How do you change the life of someone who does not know that s/he is being discriminated? In the context of Chhaupadi, children see their mother banished once a month – a witnessing daughter accepts her fate and resigns herself to the shed every month. A witnessing son banishes his sister/wife to the hut. The boy does not know he is doing wrong, the girl does not know she is being wronged – quite a conundrum.
The plight of those who observe the practice is not new to us – from fear of physical harm (rape/snake bites/suffocation) to psychosocial well-being of the women – isolation often leads to depression, low self-esteem, which prevents the empowerment of their own. Furthermore, reports also suggest that banished women are vulnerable to rape too – and many times the incident is not disclosed fearing the future of the unmarried daughter.
Chhaupadi as a traditional practice violates the rights of women as human beings and as members of a reproductive age group, therefore a gross violation. Unfortunately, it is proving a challenge for the state to permanently banish because of its religious and social roots, nevertheless the state, the society, and the individual must strive to its permanent eradication.
Ms. Khatiwada was a part of Social Campaign For Social Change who organised several seminars/programs to raise awareness on the matter.