Sudurpaschim, the far west region of Nepal comprises 9.63 per cent of the country’s population. The region continues to practice the harmful tradition known as Chhaupadi pratha, despite being banned by the Supreme Court of Nepal in the year 2005.
I come from Dadeldhura District and have seen people following this tradition for years. Girls in my hometown only recently had access to sanitary pads but they are still forced to stay in the chhaupadi goth (shed) and people do not even touch them whenever they are mensurating as they are seen as impure.
If someone like me attempts to explain to the locals that the chhaupadi pratha is wrong and should be discontinued, they usually dismiss me, claiming that I am just a kid and do not understand the significance of the tradition. Some even believe that not adhering to it will bring punishment from a higher power upon the family.
It baffles me how the people in the Sudurpaschim region do not understand the risk and the harm that women and girls are facing because of this tradition.
Suffering in the name of tradition
Women and young girls are still compelled to take shelter in a chhaupadi shed, often located a distance away from their homes. These sheds are typically constructed using wood, mud, and grass. They are required to remain there until the conclusion of their monthly menstruation cycle, which spans about 5 to 6 days.
But if it is their first period then they have to stay there for 10 to 20 days. They are forced to use different utensils and clothes as most people treat them like they are suffering from an incurable disease or a curse.
They are even prohibited from touching a tree, as it is believed that doing so will cause the tree to rot. Despite the Supreme Court’s ban on this practice, it continues to persist due to deeply entrenched religious beliefs in the community.
Orthodox Hindus believe that failing to adhere to this tradition will displease the gods, potentially leading to generations facing ill fortune.
But they do not release how poorly they are treating the women in their families. Women do not receive the necessary hygiene supplies required during their menstruation, and as a result, many lose their lives each year due to various factors such as snake bites, suffocation from insufficient ventilation in the chhaupadi shed, and vaginal infections, among others.
Young girls live in fear of staying in the chhaupadi shed, as anyone can enter and pose a threat, including the risk of sexual assault or animal attacks. This practice is not limited to menstruating girls; even mothers of newborns are required to stay in the chhaupadi shed for up to nine to 15 days. This poses a significant risk of the child contracting various diseases due to the unsanitary conditions.
Need for awareness among locals
The term chhaupadi originated in the far-western region of Nepal. Different regions have their own words for menstruation, such as Bahirhunu in Dadeldhura and chhaupadi in Achham. In many families, men refrain from discussing menstruation, viewing it as something impure.
This is the reason why we need to educate young boys about mensuration. It is important they know what mensuration is and educate them on the importance of breaking the taboo. However, in Sudurpaschim, many families opt to keep this topic hidden from their daughters, and consequently, a significant number of them remain unaware of what menstruation means.
While municipalities and the government are making efforts to put an end to these traditions, some locals remain resistant and continue to observe them. People need to realise that with time, embracing change and accepting new realities is crucial, rather than clinging to old taboos.