The local levels must launch a massive awareness drive to get rid of the chhaupadi system that dehumanises women in rural areas
A report from the far-flung district of Bajura states that a mother and her two sons, aged seven and nine, died after a chhau shed they were staying in caught fire in Budhinanda Municipality-9 on Tuesday. Police think the chhau shed might have caught fire while they were burning firewood to heat the poorly-built shed as they lacked enough clothes and quilts to ward off the chilling cold following the recent snowfall. This speaks volumes about the pathetic condition that the girls and women have to endure during their menstrual period. Chhaupadi is a traditional system in which women have to stay for five to seven days during their period in a chhau shed, away from their home, which is poorly-built, has a low ceiling and lacks proper ventilation. This practice is common in the hilly districts of the Far-West and in Karnali Province. While in a chhau shed, the women must not only live in isolation but also brave the wind and chill, especially during the winter months. There is a strong belief, even among the educated men and women of the region, that the gods will be angry and bring misfortune if women stay at home during their periods.
Many non-governmental social organisations and government bodies have been launching campaigns to eradicate the chhaupadi system that causes mental and physical stigma as well as great inconvenience to the girls and women during their periods. School-going and unmarried girls must stay in a chhau shed for seven days. They are also prevented from going to school during that time. Menstruation is a biological process that keeps a woman’s body healthy, and also prepares her for pregnancy. Having a regular menstrual cycle is a sign that a woman’s important organs are working normally. However, people in the mid- and far-western region take it otherwise, and they link it with impurity, culture, religion and belief. It is, therefore, a hard nut to crack.
Nepal’s Parliament enacted a law criminalising the centuries-old tradition on August 10, 2017, which came into force a year later. Outlawing the ill practice was a leap forward for the country. Under the new Criminal Code, anyone forcing a woman to follow the custom is liable to a three-month jail sentence or a fine of Rs 3,000 or both. The then Parliament criminalised the custom 12 years after the country’s Supreme Court outlawed it. However, the chhaupadi custom continues to be practised unabated despite it being outlawed, thanks to the strong belief in it. Many women have died in the chhau shed after being attacked by wild beasts as they stay away from home and family. As law has been enacted, this is the time to enforce it at the grassroots level. A massive awareness campaign should be launched against this practice in all the villages. Elected officials, educated men and women, health workers and social workers are the driving force in eradicating this custom that is strongly ingrained in the society. At the same time, the local levels can also come out with innovative ideas about ways of getting rid of this deep-rooted custom. They can offer cash and other incentives to those girls and women ready to break the shackles that have chained them to the custom and tradition. Law in itself will be meaningless unless it is fully implemented.
Restore Rani Pokhari
With the reconstruction of many monuments and heritage sites, destroyed in the April 2015 earthquake, picking up pace, it is but natural for the people to ask when it will be the turn of the historic Rani Pokhari pond, situated in the heart of Kathmandu. Its reconstruction was to begin in May last year, but it is now uncertain if it will begin anytime soon. It used to be a major landmark of the city but has turned into an eyesore with the reconstruction left in limbo following a row between the mayor and deputy mayor over the building code that should be followed in its restoration.
On Tuesday, the Nepal Student Union, sister wing of the Nepali Congress, tried to draw the attention of the government to the plight of the remarkable pond by organising a football tournament on its dry bed. Indeed it has caught media attention and, hopefully, that of the concerned stakeholders as well. With Nepal eyeing two million tourists for Visit Nepal 2020, it would be prudent to have the charming site restored to its original grandeur as early as possible.
A version of this article appears in print on January 10, 2019 of The Himalayan Times.