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Another Death Prompts First Arrest in Age-Old Custom

Brother-in-law arrested in Nepal after woman dies in menstruation hut on cold night
By John Johnson,  Newser Staff
Posted Dec 27, 2019 12:48 PM CST
After Woman's Death, First Arrest Made in Age-Old Custom
A file photo of women in Nepal offering prayers on the banks of the Bagmati River in Kathmandu, Nepal.   (AP Photo/Niranjan Shrestha)

(Newser) – It's called "chhaupadi," an age-old practice in Nepal in which women are forced out of the home while menstruating and into makeshift huts, even in the bitter cold. The nation outlawed the practice last year, but the custom persists. Now, however, a young woman's death has prompted the first arrest related to chhaupadi, and human rights activists are hoping it signals the start of a real change. Coverage:

  • The death: On Dec. 2, a 21-year-old woman named Parbati Buda Rawat was found dead in the hut outside her home in the western Achham district, reports the New York Times. Authorities say she built a fire in the tiny enclosure to stay warm and died of smoke inhalation. Other young women have died from cold temperatures, physical assaults, suffocation, and even snakebites, reports the BBC.
  • The arrest: Rawat lived in the home with her husband's family, and police say her brother-in-law, 25-year-old Chhatra Rawat, is the one who forced her to go to the hut. Long-held superstition in Nepal holds that menstruating women are considered impure and must be isolated. The brother-in-law is now jailed, though NPR notes the penalty is relatively light even if he's convicted: three months in jail and a fine of about $30.

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  • The law: The nation banned the practice of chhaupadi last year, but it remains in widespread practice, especially in rural areas. A study out earlier this month found that nearly 80% of 400 teenage girls surveyed in mid-Western Nepal still had to sleep in menstruation huts, reports CNN. "The women and girls we spoke to were terrified of snakes and animals coming in at night, or of being attacked by strangers," says one of the researchers. About 40% didn't know the practice was now illegal.
  • 2 views: The village chief says the arrest was a mistake. "The police are just adding pain over pain," he tells the Times. "She had gone to the hut on her own, taking part of our culture." But an activist praises the arrest, along with orders for villagers to destroy their huts: "This has sent a warning."
  • Bigger issue: Nepal has taken other steps in previous years to discourage the practice, including financial incentives. But results have been mixed, and a Nepali nurse tells NPR that a bigger change must happen. "These punishments and incentives are symbolically positive, but they do not address the underlying cause of why women follow restrictions during menstruation," she says. "And that is lack of education, and fear."
(Read more Nepal stories.)

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