Woman dies in Nepal after being forced into exile because she was menstruating

The young woman is believed to have died from smoke inhalation from a fire she lit in a hut 

Maya Oppenheim
Friday 12 January 2018 17:56 GMT
A chhaupadi hut in Achram, Nepal
A chhaupadi hut in Achram, Nepal (Getty)

A 21-year-old woman has died in a remote village in Nepal after she was forced to live in a hut due to the fact she was menstruating, according to a government official.

The young woman, who was found dead on Monday, is believed to have died from smoke inhalation from a fire she ignited in the hut to ensure she kept warm in the chilly temperatures of the mountain village.

The ancient Hindu custom of prohibiting women who are menstruating from taking part in normal family activities and having contact with men of the household because they are deemed “impure” is known as “chhaupadi”.

The practice was outlawed in 2005 but has remained prevalent in the remote west of the country.

Dozens of women and girls have died in Nepal - one of the poorest countries in Asia - in recent years as a result of the tradition despite campaigns by activists and government measures to bid farewell to the practice.

Tul Bahadur Kawcha, the government official, said the practice was still carried out in some remote villages despite a law being introduced last year to punish people who force women to follow the tradition.

The new law, which included a grace period to give citizens time to get used to it, comes into force in August this year. Officials have long claimed overhauling archaic, culturally entrenched attitudes cannot take place over night.

The law will result in violators who force women into exile while they are on their periods facing up to three years in prison or being forced to cough up a fine of 3,000 Nepalese rupees.

The Hindu custom of relegating women to sleep outside despite temperatures in Nepal being able to plummet to below zero degrees celsius in winter comes from concerns women will anger the gods or contaminate the home if they stay inside.

In rural areas, it is widely perceived that not following the practice will engender misfortune in the form of natural disasters or sickness or death among family members or livestock. While married women generally stay outside for only a few days, others can be banished for the entirety of up to a week.

On top of experiencing isolation, they can be prohibited from drinking milk and given less food to eat while they are on their period.

The news comes after a number of cases of deaths which stem from women being excluded due to menstruating. Back in November 2016, Dambara Upadhyay died alone after spending four nights outside.

The 21-year-old was found by her sister-in-law with blood coming out of her nose. Despite local police suggesting she might have experienced a heart attack the initial post-mortem report was not able to establish a cause of death.

While other deaths have been attributed to wild animal attacks, the most common cause is smoke inhalation from fires lit in an attempt to stay warm in cold climes.

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