After a 21-year-old woman died in Nepal after spending three frigid nights in an unheated “period hut,” local police made what’s been described as the country’s first-ever arrest in connection with the illegal — but centuries-old — practice of chhaupadi.
The tradition, which is linked to Hinduism, dictates that menstruating women be banished from their homes for the duration of their periods. Though Nepal outlawed chhaupadi in 2005, it continues to be practiced in some rural communities. Stories of women dying from exposure, snakebites, smoke inhalation and other causes while exiled in menstrual huts are not uncommon.
Nepali authorities said Parwati Budha Rawat was found dead in one such hut in the district of Accham on Monday morning after she lit a fire to keep warm in the windowless space and suffocated.
Police said they arrested her brother-in-law in connection with her death. Reuters reported that Chhatra Rawat, 25, was being questioned to see whether he’d forced the woman to stay in the hut.
Accham’s chief district officer, Bhoj Raj Shrestha, told the outlet that it was the “first time we have arrested any person in connection with a death under the chhaupadi custom.”
If found guilty, Rawat could be sentenced to up to three months behind bars and face a fine of up to 3,000 Nepali rupees ― or about $26, Reuters said.
While opponents lauded police action in the wake of the woman’s death, some said much more needs to be done at the national and community level to ensure the practice is eradicated entirely.
“It is positive to see the police act proactively and it will help discourage people from following the tradition. But there is a long way to go to end it,” Radha Poudel, an anti-chhaupadi activist, told AFP.
Another activist, Pashupati Kunwar, said not enough has been done to enforce the law.
“If the Nepal government takes action and punishes the culprit then, perhaps, this tradition will come to an end,” Kunwar told The Guardian, adding that it is also “imperative” that local governments convince menstruating women to reject the practice.
According to Reuters, a village in the neighboring district of Doti announced last week that it would dole out a financial incentive of 5,000 rupees to any woman who refuses to be exiled to a menstrual hut during her period.