Chhaupadi still persists in remote Achham
Some young girls from Hattikot in Mellekh Rural Municipality-8 of Achham lodged a complaint at the ward office last month, alleging that they were being coerced into staying in ‘mensuration sheds’, locally known as ‘chhau goth’ during their periods and were denied access to restrooms.
Upon receiving these complaints, representatives from the ward office, the police, and other stakeholders convened to plan a joint monitoring operation in the area. When the monitoring team arrived in Hattikot village two weeks ago, some locals felt the officials were there to demolish menstruation sheds like the past. One middle-aged woman raised her voice declaring that she wouldn’t permit authorities to demolish the shed which had been built at a cost of Rs 50,000.
While officials attempted to educate the locals about the law, it appeared that the villagers were more concerned about incurring the wrath of gods than facing legal consequences. “When the menstruation sheds were demolished earlier, our daughters and daughters-in-law began spending their menstruation periods inside the house. However, family members fell ill, livestock perished, and snakes started infiltrating our homes, as our gods were angered,” the woman explained. “We won’t allow the officials to demolish our shed now.”
She revealed that she had reconstructed the shed, as most villagers had done. Sangita Thakulla pointed out that most houses had already rebuilt sheds where women were compelled to stay during menstruation. “It appears that women will once again be forced into menstruation sheds, and they are not even allowed to use the restroom,” she lamented.
Thakulla emphasized the urgency of conducting more awareness campaigns to eradicate chhaupadi practice. Mahesh Thakulla, chairman of Ward-8 in Mellekh Rural Municipality, noted that most of the menstruation sheds previously demolished had been rebuilt. “It seems that the locals are engaged in a race to erect menstruation sheds again, arguing that gods will become angry if menstruating women are allowed to stay at home,” he said. “Locals believe that if a snake enters their home or if their livestock dies, it’s because the gods are displeased.”
Thakulla said he believes that the ward office should stop providing services to people promoting the chhaupadi practice. There are 328 households in Hattikot village. With the exception of a few, most have rebuilt the menstruation sheds that were previously dismantled, said Ward Chairman Thakulla reported.
Sunita Thakulla, a local woman, noted that young women were once again being compelled to use menstruation sheds out of fear of the gods. Mellekh-8 was the first ward in Sudurpaschim Province to be declared open defecation-free, but women are still denied access to restrooms during menstruation, Sunita pointed out.
The campaign to demolish menstruation sheds lost momentum after the covid pandemic, and the ward office has not prioritized it at present, say locals. Pashupati Kunwar, a women’s rights activist, identified chhaupadi as one of the factors driving the increased rate of migration in the village. “Society ostracizes families that do not adhere to the chhaupadi practice. Without social interaction or assistance from the community, one cannot remain in the family. This leaves them with no choice but to leave the village,” she said.
Due to chhaupadi, which is prohibited by law, many women and girls have prematurely lost their lives in Achham. Despite being the most affected by chhaupadi malpractice, there are no precise statistics regarding the number of deaths in menstruation sheds. A recent study revealed that 14 women had died inside menstruation sheds over the past 17 years, with two succumbing to snakebites, a few to suffocation, and others to unknown causes.
The Supreme Court declared chhaupadi a social ill 18 years ago, and two years later, the government implemented regulations related to chhaupadi as per the court's order. However, chhaupadi still persists in remote villages.
The United Nations Universal Declaration on Human Rights and Article 38 of the Constitution of Nepal, 2015, prohibit any form of violence and discrimination against women based on religious, social, cultural, traditional, or any other grounds. Nonetheless, the harmful practice of confining women to unsafe sheds during menstruation remains entrenched in remote villages.
Under the National Penal Code Act of 2017, chhaupadi or any form of discrimination, untouchability, or inhumane treatment of women during menstruation or childbirth is considered a crime. Individuals involved in such acts can be fined up to Rs 3,000 and sentenced to a jail term of three months, or both.
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