That Chhaupadi system—whereby girls and women are secluded during menstruation for days and are forced to live in dangerous sheds—is a human cruelty is no brainer. This has resulted in huge social, psychological and physical harm on women. They have suffered isolation, poor hygiene, sexual abuse and even deaths while adhering to this extremely harmful traditional practice. There is a general consensus that such a deeply dehumanizing culture must be done away with once and for all and girls and women must be provided security, access to nutrition and treated with dignity irrespective of whether they are in period or not. Recognizing this, the government of Nepal criminalized Chhaupadi system in 2017 with a law. The Criminal Code stated that those forcing women to practice Chhaupadi during the period will be punished with three month’s jail term along with fine.
But the truth of the matter is that the system still thrives in the name of tradition in many districts in the mid and far-west, especially in Karnali province. Girls and women are still expected to isolate themselves during menstruation. They are barred from sharing kitchen and prohibited from sleeping inside the houses. Alarmingly, women themselves and elderly people are found to have been staunch supporters of this illegal practice. In this context, a massive campaign to uproot the system was long overdue. And it started a few months back. After the death of Parbati Budha Rawat, 21, in Jumla in December last year and the subsequent arrest of her brother-in-law who forced her into Chhaupadi, the government intensified the campaign against Chhaupadi. Issuing circulars to all local governments, the government directed the offices to strictly monitor Chhau practice and book the culprits. The locals, including youths and police, carried out awareness programs and destroyed the Chhau sheds. Campaigners brought on board women, Dalits, media persons and even shamans. In Jumla, Chief District Officer Durga Banjade personally visited several villages telling people about the criminalization of the practice. Many leaders and lawmakers made similar statements.
But this noble campaign seems to be fizzling out in recent times. According to our reports from Jumla, where the ills of Chhaupadi are glaring, families have continued with the ill practice. Elderly people have been blamed for not allowing their daughters and daughters-in-law at home during the menstruation. Women in Karnali are in double whammy: The government has criminalized Chhaupadi, sheds have been dismantled. But they are not allowed to stay inside home either. Even police are not seen keen to take action against those who practice Chhaupadi. Campaigners have fallen silent and there has been no new program in the last few weeks. This will be detrimental to anti-Chhaupadi campaign. When we stop raising awareness, it could send a troubling message that there is nothing wrong in observing Chhaupadi. Thus the government of Karnali Province as well as the local governments need to revive the campaign, by creating the fear of law, spreading awareness about how it harms not only the women but the whole of the society, or whatever means works, until Chhaupadi is completely abolished. When it comes to saving girls and women from harm’s way and creating an enabling environment for them to live with dignity there should be no second thought. We must relentlessly pursue until we succeed.