By Ajita Rijal
Achham, Jan. 31: Chhaupadi sheds, where women and girls used to be secluded during monthly periods, are being demolished in full swing as part of a government drive in Achham district of the Sudhurpachhim State.
After recurring incidents of death due to the practice of sending women to stay in Chhaupadi sheds during menstruation, the Chhaugoth demolition drive imposed by the federal government is going on in Achham district under the leadership of District Administrative Office, representatives of local government and police administration.
According to DAO, Achham, around 5,000 Chhaupadi sheds have already been demolished after the commencement of the recent drive. The sheds of the Biraltoli, a village where mostly Tamatas, Dholis and Sauds reside, were demolished last week.
Upon reaching the house of village shaman Tula Dholi, The Rising Nepal Watch team found that the shed meant for his female family members was already demolished. TRN team had reached there for the purpose of monitoring with ward chairman of Mangalsen Municipality-3 Padam Bahadur Bhatt.
But the Dholis were not happy about the government's move. Shaman Dholi started acting as if he had been possessed by some mystical power. He started shaking all his body and spelt out that demolishing the Chhaugoth was a crime and it was against his beliefs and ritual.
According to the superstitious belief of shaman Dholi, if women don’t observe the restrictions, their families will suffer the curse of god. Ward chair Bhatt told him that no bad thing would happen to his family. He assured no curse would befall his family and said that the Chhaugoth demolishing drive was meant for the good health and security of women.
The shaman, however, maintained that he was facing the wrath of gods frequently after the shed was demolished. Dholi's son, Hari Nepali, 28, asked the ward chair, "If something happens to my father, who will be responsible?"
This is the situation at a village not far from the headquarters of Achham district, where the backward practice seems to have been deep-rooted.
"I do support the government's drive, but I can't see my father in pain," said Hari. “With fear of something inauspicious, I have managed a room inside my house for my menstruating wife.”
Need to change mindset of shamans
According to ward chair Bhatt, battling with shamans against the practice is a bit challenging here. “They think that we are not respecting their beliefs. The people believe in shamans and their god inside the house which was the main challenge faced by the team deployed for demolishing the sheds,” said Bhatt.
“They think that they might annoy the god because menstruation is considered impure. And if menstruating women are kept inside the house they cause disrespect to their god. The shamans are more persistent to continue with this practice,” said Bhatt.
As per the experience of ward chairman Bhatt, the most challenging aspect of the drive is changing the mindset of people's trust towards the shamans.
According to the local representatives, they have tried to convince the shamans and local people and will continue the drive with full effort. The local government has a plan to conduct an awareness programme after the completion of the drive.
Happiness among girls and women
Kamala Tamata, 21, of the same village was happy that the small suffocating shed, where she was compelled to live during monthly periods, was demolished in an effort of the government.
"I am happy to sleep inside my own house even during my periods," said Tamata.
Expressing her happiness, she thanked the government for launching the drive. Kabita Pariyar, 35, of Mangalsen Municipality-8 said, "I have started sleeping inside the house after the direction of the local government and I feel very warm and safe during my periods."
The local representatives have also warned
that people who practice this social evil will not be deprived of all the social incentives and services, said Pariyar, adding this warning had also helped to change the mindset of her family to demolish the Chhaupadi shed.
Laws and effectiveness of drive
The change has begun in the wake of the government's drive to demolish the Chhaupadi sheds, said Chief District Officer of Achham, Bhojraj Shrestha.
Every girl and woman must be safe inside the house and should practice healthy behaviour during their periods, said Shrestha, adding all the Chhaupadi sheds would be pulled down.
Strict implementation of laws is the only option left to eradicate such an unhealthy practice, said Shrestha. “Leaving women unsafe is the violation of their rights.”
The drive will be successful at any cost and every woman and girl must have dignified and healthy periods, he added.
According to the law, any family member who forces a woman to live in Chhaupadi shed during monthly periods can be punished with a jail sentence of three months or a fine of 3,000 or both.