A mother and her two young children have reportedly died of suffocation in a menstruation hut in western Nepal, a tragic story that unfortunately continues to repeat itself year after year during the country’s frigid winters. In accordance with the Hindu tradition of menstrual seclusion, known locally as chhaupadi, Amba Bohara had barricaded herself in the hut alongside her two children, aged 9 and 7, so that she wouldn’t spiritually contaminate her family’s house. After building a fire to avoid freezing to death during the night, the smoke within the enclosed space proved fatal, according to police. Their bodies were found by her mother-in-law the next morning, Bohara’s legs charred from the fire and foam bubbling out of the mouths of the children.
“This has broken my heart,” said Mr. Bohara, a manual laborer who was abroad working in India when he heard the news of his family’s death.
Annual deaths of women in menstruation huts as a result of suffocation, animal bites, or cold had prompted the Nepali government to finally pass a law forbidding the practice of chhaupadi last year. But no-one has yet to be prosecuted under the law, and women’s rights activists say that the tradition continues unabated — especially in western Nepal, one of the poorest regions in all of Asia. A 2010 Nepali government survey found that 50 percent of women aged 15 to 49 in midwestern and far western Nepal followed chhaupadi.
Police have said they are still investigating to see whether they would file any charges in the deaths. According to former lawmaker Rewati Raman Bhandari, who helped draft the bill criminalizing the menstrual huts, police and local politicians have been too concerned about facing potential controversy with locals and religious authorities to crack down on the practice.
“Tradition,” he explained, “is stronger than the law.”
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