ACHHAM, Dec 9: A few years ago, Sunadevi Rawal of Mellekh Rural Municipality-1, Rishidaha, milked her cow and cooked evening meal for her children in her periods. She knew that she has been prohibited to do so but still she took that major step, as she could not let her little children sleep on empty stomachs.
There was no one to cook for the children and milk the cow as her husband was in India for employment. "As I had already entered the house and cooked the meal, I decided to stay inside," said Sunadevi. Later, when the villagers found out, they criticized her and acted as if she had committed a crime.
They did not only pass demeaning comments on her but also stopped drinking and eating the food she offered. She was ostracized. "Later, when my husband came from India, we went to a shaman and asked him if I had done anything wrong. But the shaman told us that nothing bad will happen if we maintain hygiene and avoid touching temples during such times," said Sunadevi.
At that time, she did not know that what she had done was not wrong. Later, most women of her village started living inside their houses instead of Chhaupadi sheds after being counseled by the female health workers. Ujjali Dhami of Rishidaha said, "It's been more than a year since we demolished our menstrual huts and started living inside our houses during periods but some still follow the ill tradition."Ujjali said that a few months ago, a group of women from their village had gone to Jaggadh of Achham to sell bamboo baskets. "We found that most women there still lived in Chhaupadi sheds during their periods. We urged them to come to our village to learn why this tradition must be eliminated," said Ujjali.
The girls and women of wards no. 1, 2, 3 and 6 of Mellekh have been trained to prepare sanitary pads for themselves. Just a week ago, wards no. 1 and 2 of Mellekh were declared Chhaupadi-free. "We are also trying to make the people living in other wards aware about this movement," said Lok Bahadur Bohora, chairperson of the rural municipality.
Some families are continuing with the tradition of Chhaupadi despite losing their family members in sheds in the past. They know that it is not safe for the girls to live in sheds but still they are following the ill tradition.
In the last one and a half decades, around 14 girls and women have lost their lives in menstrual sheds. Despite the awareness that all the 'beliefs' associated with menstruation are false, girls and women are obliged to live in sheds due to the fear of being ostracized.
Though the government has already criminalized Chhaupadi, it is still practiced in various parts of the country. As per the new civil code, those practicing Chhaupadi are jailed for three months and have to pay Rs 3,000 in fine.
Caption: The girls of Rishidaha, Achham, participating in a training to make sanitary pads.