Their songs from the forest

Oligaun is an hour by foot from the district capital at Mangalsen of Achham. It is less remote than most villages and is made up of mixed families of Chhetris, Pariyar and Mijar. Mangala Nepal Rastriya Madhyamik Vidhyalaya offers technical education, and is he only one of its kind in Achham. Most households at least one member – mostly the men – working in India. Many young people aspire to leave. It is common for girls to marry by 16 even though the legal age of marriage for girls is 18 with parental consent and 20 on their own. Chhaupadi was outlawed in 2005 and criminalised since August 2018. Oligaun has been declared Chhaupadi-free by local authorities, but the tradition persists. All photos: UMA BISTA

Photographer Uma Bista’s exhibition Our Songs from the Forest is a gentle invitation into the remote mountains of Achham where we meet young women coming of age in a fast-changing society.

The women are learning to navigate superstition and ingrained patriarchy in their community while balancing it alongside new aspirations of equality. They are asking questions, and pushing boundaries.

Women are considered impure during menstruation, and even though the practice of being banished to the cowshed during their periods is now outlawed and is gradually fading away, it is still happens. These brave women are challenging societal norms, and trying to speak against the superstition that perpetuates the practice.

Many women still believe that the gods are angered if they do not isolate themselves in the outhouses every month. They are held responsible for ills that might befall the family, especially the menfolk, if they break the rules.

Despite new laws that criminalise these practices, the fear runs deep: fear of angering the gods, fear of being labeled immoral, fear of being ostracised by the community, fear of change. Can such fears be replaced by the fear of legal consequences? Will destroying the sheds free us of the tradition associated with them?

Uma Bista takes us into the forests around Oligaun, where the young women seek freedom from the inequality they face daily and the shame they are forced to endure every month. In the forest, the skies are open, the air is free and they feel no fear. They can sing and laugh as loudly as they wish.

Our Songs from the Forest

Till 10  April

Chhaya Centre

Thamel 11AM-7PM

(01 )5543501 (