A teenage girl in Nepal, Tulasi Shahi, died after being bitten by a snake, twice in her head and once on her leg, while she was banished to a cowshed during a menstruation ritual, writes the New York Times. Shahi, 18, was taking part in Chhaupadi - which translates to “untouchable being”- still a common practice in rural areas, though banned in 2005, in which women, believed to be unclean during menstruation, are sequestered for the duration for their periods. Chhaupadi is not just relegated to menstruation, but also for women during the following weeks after childbirth.
After she was bit, Shahi’s family brought her to a Hindu shaman who performed rituals for several hours before declaring she needed a doctor. Once at the local health clinic, she was unable to be treated, as they did not have the antivenom. After several hours of fighting the venom in her system, Shahi died during transport to a hospital. Sadly, Shahi is not the first to die while practicing Chhaupadi.
During Chhaupadi, girls are even prohibited to go to school, drink milk or eat milk products, and are given only limited access to water taps and wells. They are forbidden from touching other people, cattle, and crops, out of fear that a god or goddess may be angered and destroy livestock and crops. It seems like most deities are only angered by women.
Though death is the ultimate price of Chhapaudi, those forced to practice it have suffered physically in other ways. The UN reports that the practice is also linked to several diseases, such as diarrhea, pneumonia, and respiratory issues. And of course, the practice is also linked to psychological illness. Research from Action Works Nepal reports that that 77% of girls and women felt humiliated during their periods, and two-thirds reported feeling lonely and scared when staying in cowsheds.
The level of dehumanization is inconceivable. To be banished from your home, by the will of your own family, forced to live in the same quarters as animals, with limited access to food and water where you can possibly face an attack from either wildlife, or worse, men, and potentially face death, would leave one feeling a bit more than humiliated, lonely, and scared.
These types of discussions are difficult, as it is important to maintain cultural beliefs and traditions, however, said beliefs and traditions are dangerous when they are inherently violent against women. The notion that menstruation is essentially “impure,” and therefore requires strict restrictions dictating where girls and women can and cannot go and what they can and cannot eat or do, is violence. This type of misogyny cannot be excused or ignored.
Many Nepali women are fighting to end the practice.
“There are so many organizations working on this issue,” Radha Paudel, a Nepali women's rights activist focusing on menstrual health, told the New York Times. “Our president is a woman, the speaker is a woman, and our chief justice was a woman. But girls are dying in the shed, and they have to live like animals. It’s shameful.”
Top photo: Nepali "menstruation hut," screenshot via CNN
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Bry'onna Mention is a digital editor at BUST and a wavvy womanist who is always ready to square up against misogynoir and respectability. She can usually be found running through the burbs with her ‘fro. Catch her on the internet at @radsadblackbry or email@example.com.