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In Rural Nepal, Menstruation Taboo Claims Another Victim

All of this, of course, was too late for Ms. Bayak, 22, who has been described as a talented, highly motivated young woman. Her family said she had been teaching illiterate women to read while finishing her own high school degree, and sewing dresses at night.

Radha Paudel, a Nepali women’s rights activist, was struck by the fact that Ms. Bayak’s family was relatively educated and well off.

“This is what makes me upset,” Ms. Paudel said. “Even people who consider themselves very sophisticated, very educated, very cultured, they are still doing this, because of religion.”

The practice is called chhaupadi, which in the Nepali language means something like “tree omen.” The vast majority of Nepal’s population is Hindu, and in ancient Hindu culture, menstruating women were considered toxic — if they entered a temple, they polluted it; if they handled the family’s food, everyone would become sick; if they touched a tree, that tree would never bear fruit.

According to her family, Ms. Bayak dreamed of moving to Nepal’s capital, Kathmandu, and living happily as a tailor. She lived in a remote village in western Nepal with her husband’s family, who ran a shop. Her husband, a police officer in Kathmandu, said he had never forced his wife to follow the chhaupadi tradition, but that she insisted because women in her part of Nepal had done so for as long as anyone could remember.

At this time of year, Nepal is quite cold, especially at night. In Ms. Bayak’s area, the temperature dropped close to freezing on Monday. Police officials said the shed where she was sleeping had no windows, and that they found fresh coals near her body, evidence that she had built a small fire.

Last summer, another young woman died while following the chhaupadi ritual. That woman had been banished to a small hut where she was bitten by a poisonous snake.

“What this is, is segregation,” said Ms. Paudel, the activist. “And we as a society don’t talk enough about it. We don’t talk about dignity, we don’t talk about women’s rights.”

Source: NYT > World

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