Nepal makes first arrest after banished woman dies in 'menstrual hut'

21-year old woman died in a 'Chhaupadi', a makeshift hut where women are sent during menstruation.

The first arrest in the now outlawed practice of 'Chhaupadi' has been made in Nepal's western district of Achham. Under this practice, menstruating women are banished from their family homes and are forced to live in 'menstrual huts', commonly called 'Chhaupada'.

Parbati Buda Rawat, 21, died of suffocation from fire that she lit to keep her warm in the hut. Police arrested her brother-in-law, 25-year old Chhatra Rawat, Nepal's The Himalayan Times reported.

This is the first ever arrest in the practice of Chhaupada in the country. The practice, though outlawed, is still prevalent in Nepal's rural regions. Police said that they are investigating whether the 25-year old suspect had forced Rawat to stay in the hut. It's presently unclear whether Rawat has been charged.

Practice of Chhaupada was outlawed by Nepal's Supreme Court in 2005 and criminalized in 2017. If Rawat is convicted of forcing her sister-in-law to live in the the hut, he will be imprisoned for 3 months and fined for 3,000 Nepali rupees ($26), according to the Nepali law.

21-year old Nepali woman died of suffocation in the 'menstrual hut', as she lit fire to keep her warm Representational Image

In Hindu tradition, women undergoing menstruation are generally considered impure, banned from touching food, god's idols, entering kitchen or visiting temples. In rural areas, in both India and Nepal, women are banished from their homes and are forced to live in huts or cattle sheds; where they are susceptible to extreme weather conditions, attacks and suffocation.

In January, this year, a woman along with her two sons, died of suffocation in a 'menstrual hut' in Nepal. In February, another Nepali woman died of suffocation, with her legs charred, in a menstrual hut. According to a 2010 survey by the Nepali government, 19% women in the menstruating age practiced 'Chhaupadi'.

Vesak Day 2017
A woman carries a tray filled with butter lamps in Kathmandu, Nepal Reuters

Regarding the first arrest in this abhorrent practice, Radha Poudel, a Nepali activist, told AFP: "It is positive to see the police act proactively and it will help discourage people from following the tradition". "But there is a long way to go to end it."