Banished from home in the name of tradition
Updated 21:36, 06-Sep-2019
By Tony Cheng

Sunita is a lively 16-year-old girl living in Nepal’s Karnali province.

Every month, for at least five days during menstruation, she has to live in a little hut outside of her home.

Like other women, Sunita has to observe this ancient ritual, known as 'chhaupadi', which has been practiced for centuries in the country’s rural communities.

Once banished to these so-called 'menstrual huts,' women like Sunita are isolated from others, and have limited access to food and water.

Sunita and her 'menstrual hut'. /CGTN Photo

Sunita and her 'menstrual hut'. /CGTN Photo

“When it rains, I try to find a bit of cover," said Suanita as she showed her menstrual hut during CGTN's Assignment Asia. "This has been practiced for a long time. My grandmother stayed out. My mother did the same. I’m also doing it. If we go inside the house, they say the Gods will get angry, and we will fall ill.”

At least a couple of women die in the huts every year due to exposure, animal bites or smoke inhalation.

In Sunita’s village, a girl died after she was bitten by a snake while spending the night in the hut.

Activists say the practice needs to be de-stigmatized, and both men and women ought to be educated about the potential dangers of the tradition.

One of them is teacher and activist Bhuban Shahir who said she faces opposition from elders and even religious leaders.

“The elders disagreed with me. They told me, ‘who do you think you are to oppose this? The Gods and the Goddesses will get angry. Your cattle will be eaten by tigers. Your house may get burnt down.' I would hear these sorts of things,” said Shahir.

Nepalese women in Karnali province. /CGTN Photo

Nepalese women in Karnali province. /CGTN Photo

In 2017, the practice was criminalized and anyone who forces menstruating women into huts outside their homes can face up to three months in prison.

However, as activists found out, changing a centuries-old tradition continues to be an uphill battle.

Assignment Asia is CGTN’s award-winning current affairs program featuring long-form stories and documentaries on some of the most pressing issues in the region. The show airs Saturdays at 1330 and 2130 GMT, with replays every Sunday at 0630, Monday at 0130, and Tuesday at 0530.