Last week, an 18-year-old named Tulasi Shahi died from a snakebite in her village in western Nepal. She had been sent to sleep in the shed where her uncle keeps his cows because she was menstruating, part of a tradition called chhaupadi that isolates women on their periods from the family.
The New York Times reports that Shahi was bitten by a snake while inside the shed. According to NPR, Shahi had started out in the usual chhaupadi hut, but it too had a snake in it, which prompted her move to the cow shed. Her mother brought her to a shaman, then eventually to a health clinic that had no antivenom to treat her with. She died on her way to the hospital on Friday.
The practice of chhaupadi, which is based on the belief that menstruating women are impure, was outlawed by Nepal’s Supreme Court in 2005 for being a human rights violation, but a study from 2010 found that 19% of Nepalese women practice it generally. The number is closer to 50% in the area where Shahi lived. A nearby western district called Jumla sets it at 74%. According to a story from Aljazeera about another Nepali girl who suffocated in a chhaupadi hut in 2016, local leaders don’t enforce the ban, though some women have revolted and burned down the huts, declaring areas “chhaupadi-free zones.”
The NYT says that officials in Shahi’s area know of another girl who died of a snakebite while in a chhaupadi hut just six weeks prior. There is currently a law pending in Parliament that would not just ban the practice, but criminalize it. Shahi’s family told the NYT that she didn’t have an objection to the practice:
“I think my sister accepted it and followed it because it has been continuing since ages,” said her brother Prem Shahi, 24. “I think she accepted it because my grandmother followed it and my mother followed it.”