Stronger laws to reinforce the ban of an ancient Hindu practice, called Chhaupadi, have been passed in Nepal. Although the practice was officially outlawed by the Nepal Supreme Court in 2005, many rural areas in Western Nepal still follow the custom.
According to The Guardian, “women are considered impure during their periods and immediately after childbirth. It is during these times that women are confined to animal or cowsheds. The name for the practice, Chhaupadi, is Hindi for ‘untouchable being.’”
The new laws being introduced are part of a bill to improve safety for women in the country. Anyone caught practicing the illegal custom will be subjected to a “three-month jail sentence,” and a fine of 3,000 Nepalese rupees (roughly $29.24 USD).
Amongst these laws to eliminate Chhaupadi in Nepal’s rural regions, the bill also features laws to prevent the common acid attacks that Nepal women face, and the ancient practice of giving a dowry in exchange for marriage, said The Guardian.
A large reason for the practice’s resilience, despite its loss of legality, is the ancient religious customs rampant in Nepal and its rural areas, which argue that not following these practices will anger their Hindu gods. According to legend, angering the gods can cause death, illness or even natural disasters.
“If we stay in the shed everything’s fine, but if we go home we get sick because our deities don’t approve of it,” said Nepal native Gita Rokava in a video documentary by The Guardian. “It’s cold and our clothes are constantly dirty. It’s a sad thing. We don’t want to live like this but our gods won’t tolerate it any other way.”
“Even when I tried to keep her at home in the past, I was forced to conform with society and allow her to do Chhaupadi,” he said. “I don’t want my daughter to practice Chhaupadi. It’s not humane, so I hope she doesn’t have to do it.”
But eliminating the practice has proved to be rather complicated. Many natives to the area believe that the consequences of not following these customs are worse than the health complications and the dangers that women face when condemned to animal sheds.
“On his insistence,” Gita had explained, “I stayed at home when I had my son and for four years I was sick as a result. That’s why I went back to the shed.”
Another Nepal native, Safalta Rokaya, also spoke on her experiences with Chhaupadi. “When the night falls,” she explained, “men harass us. They come here but they haven’t done anything to me yet because my parents beat them up and they run away. After my first experience in the shed, I wished that I didn’t have a period.”
With this new bill comes a new awareness method to be incorporated by the authorities in an effort to ensure the ban’s success in exterminating the outdated practice.
Many other political figures in Nepal, as The Guardian reported, are calling for even further education programs to stop Chhaupadi at the root cause of the problem: miseducation and centuries of sexist prejudice against women, which are ingrained into virtually all elements of Nepal’s social systems.
Featured Image by DFID – UK Department for International Development on Flickr
Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0)
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