Women on their period in Nepalese village are banished to wooden huts with no walls as they risk their lives in bizarre Hindu ritual 

  • The tradition of chhaupadi bans menstruating women from touching food 
  • Two women have recently died during the ritual, one from smoke inhalation
  • Chhaupadi is banned in Nepal, but a new law in parliament would criminalise it 

In a village in the Surkhet District, western Nepal, women on their periods are forced to bear freezing temperatures in a small thatched hut with no walls.

Women who are menstruating are considered untouchable, according to the centuries-old Hindu ritual of chhaupadi, and are banned from touching food, cattle and men.  

Below the hut, known as a chhau goth, Pabrita Giri lights a small fire to keep her warm. 

In a village in western Nepal, women on their periods are banished to a hut without walls and have to bear freezing temperatures. Pictured, Pabitra Giri prepares to sleep in her hut

In a village in western Nepal, women on their periods are banished to a hut without walls and have to bear freezing temperatures. Pictured, Pabitra Giri prepares to sleep in her hut

The practice known as chhaupadi bans menstruating women from touching food, cattle, religious icons or men
Sometimes, women who have just given birth are also banished to a hut, or a chhau goth

The practice known as chhaupadi bans menstruating women from touching food, cattle, religious icons or men. Sometimes, women who have just given birth are also banished to a hut, or a chhau goth

The smoke rises up to the small cramped area where she sleeps, making her eyes water.

Ms Giri, 23, said: 'We think that if we don't follow chhaupadi bad things will happen and if we do, it (the gods) will favour us. I feel it does good, so I follow it during my periods.

'Now I am used to it. I used to be afraid in the beginning because I was away from my family during dark nights and the place is like this,' Giri said gesturing around her.

Two women recently died while following chhaupadi - one of smoke inhalation after she lit a fire for warmth, while the other death is unexplained. Pictured, women sit outside the huts

Two women recently died while following chhaupadi - one of smoke inhalation after she lit a fire for warmth, while the other death is unexplained. Pictured, women sit outside the huts

These incidents have spurred fresh impetus to end the practice, which is not yet criminalised. Pictured Ms Giri looks at her phone as she wraps up warm in the hut

These incidents have spurred fresh impetus to end the practice, which is not yet criminalised. Pictured Ms Giri looks at her phone as she wraps up warm in the hut

They are banished from the home - barred from touching food, religious icons, cattle and men - and forced into a monthly exile sleeping in basic huts.

In some areas, women are also made to spend up to a month in the chhau goth after they have given birth.

Two women recently died while following chhaupadi - one of smoke inhalation after she lit a fire for warmth, while the other death is unexplained. 

These incidents have spurred fresh impetus to end the practice.

Chhaupadi was banned a decade ago, but new legislation currently before parliament will criminalise the practice, making it an imprisonable offence to force women to follow the ritual.

'Women were accepting chhaupadi as tradition. After defining chhaupadi an offence by law the tradition will be discouraged saving rights and lives of many women,' said Krishna Bhakta Pokhrel, a lawmaker pushing the bill. 

Chhaupadi was banned a decade ago, but new legislation currently before parliament will criminalise the practice, making it an imprisonable offence to force women to follow the ritual

Chhaupadi was banned a decade ago, but new legislation currently before parliament will criminalise the practice, making it an imprisonable offence to force women to follow the ritual

The women on chhaupadi prepare dinner together. While they are menstruating, the women are considered untouchable

The women on chhaupadi prepare dinner together. While they are menstruating, the women are considered untouchable

In the capital Kathmandu, 320 miles from the Surkhet District, three in four homes practice some form of restriction on women on their periods

In the capital Kathmandu, 320 miles from the Surkhet District, three in four homes practice some form of restriction on women on their periods

But previous attempts to stop chhaupadi have failed to address the deep superstitious beliefs that underpin it.

Even in the capital Kathmandu, three in four homes practise some form of restriction on women during their periods, usually banning them from the kitchen and prayer room, said Pema Lhaki, a women's right activist who has campaigned for years to end chhaupadi.

Most attempts to end the ritual have focused on destroying the chhau goths but that hasn't stopped women being banned from their homes - instead, in some areas, it has seen women forced to sleep in even more rudimentary huts or even outside, Lhaki said.

Some areas have banned the chhau goths, but the women are still banned from their homes. Instead they are forced to sleep in even more rudimentary huts or even outside. Khagisara Regmi is considering building herself a Chhaupadi hut

Some areas have banned the chhau goths, but the women are still banned from their homes. Instead they are forced to sleep in even more rudimentary huts or even outside. Khagisara Regmi is considering building herself a Chhaupadi hut

Nepalese women sit by the fire as they live in a chhaupadi hut during their menstruation period

Nepalese women sit by the fire as they live in a chhaupadi hut during their menstruation period

Sabitra Giri, 70, defiantly said that the Maoists during Nepal's brutal civil war tried to end chhaupadi as part of an anti-religion drive - but failed

Sabitra Giri, 70, defiantly said that the Maoists during Nepal's brutal civil war tried to end chhaupadi as part of an anti-religion drive - but failed

'Until we make the woman herself make the decision, the destruction of menstrual huts is more for external purposes. 

'The menstrual huts should remain. Success is when they remain but they don't go into them,' she said, accusing the government of encouraging the chhau goth to be destroyed to meet quotas set by international donors.

In a village a few miles from where Giri lives, Khagisara Regmi is considering building a chhau goth.

Two women walk towards their chhau goth in the dark, using a torch to guide their way 

Two women walk towards their chhau goth in the dark, using a torch to guide their way 

After her husband died eight years ago, the 40-year-old found it too difficult to follow chhaupadi - which would bar her from cooking or touching her son when she was menstruating - while bringing up her four young children.

But a few years ago, her only son started having fits. When a nearby hospital failed to cure them, Regmi turned to the local shaman who told her that her son's seizures where because she hadn't followed the ancient ritual.

'Because I didn't observe purity the gods were displeased. It wasn't favourable for my son,' she said.

It is often the village shamans - who fill a void left by woefully poor medical services in rural Nepal - and the elderly who are the guardians of the ritual.

Sabitra Giri, 70, defiantly said that the Maoists during Nepal's brutal civil war tried to end chhaupadi as part of an anti-religion drive - but failed.

'You can cut me but while I'm alive this practice will continue,' she said.

It is often the village shamans - who fill a void left by woefully poor medical services in rural Nepal - and the elderly who are the guardians of the ritual

It is often the village shamans - who fill a void left by woefully poor medical services in rural Nepal - and the elderly who are the guardians of the ritual

Shaman Keshar Giri, clad head to toe in white, said that many illnesses were caused by women not following chhaupadi

Shaman Keshar Giri, clad head to toe in white, said that many illnesses were caused by women not following chhaupadi

The shamen said: 'It is not about individuals but the gods that we worship who ask women to not be near for those few days'

The shamen said: 'It is not about individuals but the gods that we worship who ask women to not be near for those few days'

At a house on the edge of the village, shaman Keshar Giri, clad head to toe in white, explained that many illnesses were caused by women not following chhaupadi.

He often counselled women to follow the ritual if they came to him with problems, he said.

'It is not about individuals but the gods that we worship who ask women to not be near for those few days,' he said.

'It's for the sake of the gods.'