Gita Khadka of Luhadaha of Junichande in Jajarkot spends her first seven days in a shed far from home during her monthly periods.
She does not find it comfortable to live in isolation but cannot dare to violate the ‘discriminatory’ practice of chhaupadi (excluding girls and women from family during their monthly cycle to an outhouse or shed) as she believes that it would displease the god and she will have to face bad luck in the days ahead. Such fear continues to abort all efforts meant to ending this harmful practice against women.
“I’m not the only person practising this custom. All women in the village who have entered their monthly cycle including my grandma, mother, sister-in-laws are accustomed to it,” she said, adding that the practice is a norm for them, though they sometimes encounter unexpected hostility.
“If the god becomes angry with us, we are supposed to face bad luck for life.” This is what Khadka believes. “So we are ready to spend a week in a month in exclusion, instead of living with the continuous fear of being cursed by divine power,” she added. “We have internalised this custom.”
Parbati Khadka of Junichande is a Grade XI student at the local Adarsha Secondary School. As she said she is not an exception in her locality. She observes the Chhaupadi. It does not mean that she is unaware of the criminalisation of this practice by the government of Nepal and the new law that has been in force since August last year slaps a three-month jail term and a 3,000 rupee fine on those who force women to abide by this custom.
She knows chhaupadi is a wrong and discriminatory practice against women, but the force driving her to the shed every month is the fear of ‘invisible power.’ They believe that violation of the practice will bring the evil eye to their lives, families and society.
A more harrowing fact is that not only menstruating girls/women, but also new mothers are forced to spend the first 10 days in the shed.
Local Prem Bahadur Khadka says though he need not follow this custom, he can feel to some level the pain and suffering the women face in chhaupadi and its consequences.
The old generation is rigid. They want to see continuity of this practice no matter what the consequences, while the new generation is yet to challenge the ‘myths’ and ‘superstitions’ attached to this, said Nepali Das Chaudhary, a teacher at Adarsha Secondary School. According to him, he has been teaching here for the past 18 years, but their efforts to convince the locals to break this tradition and end child marriage have not been completely meaningful.
Kabita Khadka shares that women also get pressure from their family to observe the practice during their periods and after child birth. Segregation after child birth exposes the new baby and mother to various health risks and sometimes takes the lives of the baby or mother or both.
Moreover, local health worker Pradeep Thapa mentions he sees over 12 women every month becoming ill following the chhaupadi practice that demeans the women’s monthly cycle. Chhaudpadi has been a barrier to girl’s education. They miss the opportunity for better performance in schools, as they cannot attend the class regularly due to confinement in the shed. Some girls even quit school with the start of menstruation, said the teachers here.
The local government here is working on a plan to uproot the practice. Junichande rural municipality says it is in touch with local youths and mothers’ groups for their support to end this.
It is relatively easier to convince the younger generation to put an end to this tradition, but the older generation is so rigid, said rural municipality Chair Krishna Bahadur KC. The rural municipality has plans to come up with a special programme to fight this custom. Besides, the local government has allocated budget in this regard.
KC thinks elimination of this practice is not impossible provided that collective commitments and determination are in place.