December 10, 2016 12:53 AM NPT
By: Uttam Ojha
NEPALGUNJ, Dec 9: On November 18, Dambara Upadhyaya (21) of Tamilsain - 7 was sleeping in Chhaupadi goth- an isolated shed made for women who are menstruating. In morning her family found her dead. Post mortem report did not confirm the cause of death.
Last year, Bhawana Malla of Khoya village was also found dead in a similar shed. The 17-year-old was seen in good spirit and health before found dead by her family in the morning. Reason of her death also remains a mystery.
Sharmila Bhul, (16) was also found dead in her menstrual shed three years ago. Though post-mortem report remains silent on the cause of her death, locals allude it to suffocation from fire smoke that was meant to keep her warm through the night.
These are some instances of how women continue to die because of their isolated stay in unhygienic and insecure chhaupadi goths.
Though social activists and NGOs have raised voices against the practice, much remains to change. This menstrual sheds lack proper ventilation and doors and are built far away from the family home. While some die out of suffocation and snake bites, causes for the death of some victims remain mystery.
“Most of the time, chhaupadi goth deaths are due to suffocation here and in neighboring districts,” Apsara Kunwar, president of Women Rights Forum, Achham said. She feels that apart from the locals denial to discontinue the tradition, government agencies are mostly responsible for the continuation of such practice and the unfortunate deaths.
“The practice of chaupaddi goth is deeply rooted in the local culture. But that does not mean that the government can use it to defend its inability. It must take actions to uproot it and if necessary take legal course for ending such inhuman practice,” Kunwar said adding that unless the state becomes responsible women will continue become victims to the tradition.
Women in chhaupadi goths have been victims to sexual harassments and sometimes even rapes- which most of the time are not reported by the victims fearing social persecution. “Women are very insecure in chhaupadi goth. Girls and young women are sexually harassed and sometimes even raped. But fearing backlash from the society and family, most of these cases go unreported,” she said. “It is impossible for the victims to report such cases of abuse to family members because the same family has been punishing them for menstruating?”
Elaborating further on the reluctance of the society to part away from the tradition, Kunwar points it to local's faith. Locals believe, she informed, that the family will be cursed by family deities if they allow a menstruating woman to stay indoors. “It is this fear of god because of which even educated families follow and support the chhaupadi culture,” she said.
In papers, 32 of the 75 VDCs of the district are declared Chhaupadi free zone. “However, in actuality, the practice continues unabated. Some families who had pledged to discontinue the practice and even destroyed the menstrual sheds in the past have resorted back to the practice and even restored the shed,” Kunwar informed adding that the practice will continue unless the government makes it's a criminal offence.