04/24/2012, 00.00
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Segregated without food and light during their period, Nepali women rebel against Chhaupadi

by Kalpit Parajuli
The practice prohibits women from having any contact with the world during their menstrual period. Each year, dozens of women die of cold or heat as a result. Now young women challenge Hindu taboos, launching an awareness campaign across the country.

Kathmandu (AsiaNews) - Treated worse than animals for centuries, women in the western districts of Nepal have begun to rebel against Chhaupadi, a Hindu tradition that bans women from contacting others during their menstruation period. With the support of human rights organisations and NGOs, some young women have broken the wall of silence and rebelled against the practice by launching an awareness campaign across the country.

When Nepal became a secular state in 2006, the practice disappeared in most parts of the country. A ruling by the Supreme Court in effect bans the practice and imposes stiff sentences on anyone forcing women to follow it. However, the tradition survives in the poorest regions, especially the western districts of Accham, Doti, Baitadi, Dadeldhura and Dailekh.

Traditionally, women are not allowed to touch any food, relatives or animals during their period. In some families, women are locked up in huts to avoid any contact with the outside world because just by looking at people and objects, they could contaminate them.

In the past few years, reports have made into the media about women dying of cold, heat or snakebites. In such cases, Chhaupadi defenders claim the women died because the gods punished them for breaking the rule. The latest example occurred in Accham district when a number of women died of cold in their huts.

"When I was a teenager, I was convinced that this practice was necessary to avoid the anger of the gods against my family," said Janaki Buda, 43, from the village of Lokandra, who has had to put with her family's abuse for years.

"Over the years, I came to realise that Chhaupadi is just another inhuman treatment of women, due to ignorance and religious superstition," she explained.  Then "One morning I decide to open my home to my sister even if it was prohibited and convinced her to go against this tradition. In a few months, other women in the village joined us and we began tearing down the huts where we were locked up."

The example of Buda and the other women of Lokandra eventually spread to other villages thanks to more enlightened family members. In a few months, the group of women from Lokandra launched an awareness campaign across the country in cooperation with UNICEF and other humanitarian organisations.

"Nepal is a secular state now," one of the young women said. "Our message is going from village to village. In the future, we hope women will not be forced to accept such inhuman traditions."

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