Kurma, a practice where women on periods are made to sleep in a shelter away from home, is followed by the Madiya and Gond tribes in Maharashtra, often resulting in poor health and even death of some women
Jayanti Baburao Gawde, 40, went to sleep in the little room outside her house. This wasn’t her regular bedroom, but it was a discomfort she had to suffer every month. During her period, Jayanti — and the other women of her tribe — were sent to sleep in such shelters or rooms outside their homes, in a tradition called ‘Kurma’.
That night, Jayanti was lucky. She had another girl — also on her period — for company. Next morning (on November 15), the girl woke up and went home, but Jayanti did not stir. She was rushed to the hospital but was declared dead on arrival. A journalist reported that her death was caused by high blood pressure. The villagers feel she could have been saved had she been sleeping with her family.
Jayanti was from Etapalli Tola, of Etapalli Block, in Gadchiroli district. Kurma is followed mainly by the women of the Madiya tribe and some from the Gond tribe, says Dr Dilip Barsagade, president of non-governmental organisation ‘Sparsh’, in Gadchiroli. For the duration of period, custom dictates that the woman stay in a separate room. Sometimes, the room is just outside her house, but mostly it is outside the settlement. The ‘kurma ghar’ is very poorly, or not at all, maintained. It normally has no door, a roof that leaks and no other facilities for its temporary occupants. Dr Barsagade shares that women have died of snakebites and have even been carried away by bears, as the room is on the edge of the forest. Men never venture near the room.
“After a lot of work in this area, and interactions with the women, they have finally accepted that the practice is harmful, but they don’t dare give it up for fear of ostracisation,” says Dr Barsagade, “It is impossible to suddenly end this practice because of their beliefs. So, the living conditions in the room must be improved.”
Etapalli taluka’s medical officer Dr Pavan Raut too has noted the unhygienic conditions in the kurma ghar. “The problem also lies in the fact that they don’t want to visit the hospital for treatment,” he said.
The National Human Rights Commission had directed the Maharashtra government’s chief secretary to form a committee to study and monitor the situation of Gaokor (another name for kurma ghar). Dr Barsagade has alleged that the committee, formed under the chairmanship of the collector in 2015, has only been a paper tiger so far and has done no work.
However, Gadchiroli collector ASR Naik refuted the allegation, saying the committee is doing its job. “Besides the work done by the committee, the Zilla Parishad holds several workshops and works through Ashas and ANM. We can see that there is a change in some villages, even if the practice has not stopped completely,” Naik said.
The administration’s next step towards eradicating kurma ghar is to identify places where the practice is rampant, and carry out a campaign. In addition to this, Naik is thinking of ways he can arrange funds for Sparsh, which has proposed a plan to tackle the practice. The proposal, which will see the NGO in an advisory role, includes educating girls and women, capacity building, and repairing and supplying essentials to the kurma ghar.
“This deplorable practice is set deep in the psyche of the tribal society here. Social menaces such as these are very difficult to abolish, but I believe we can make a difference with focussed and continued efforts,” Naik said.
But Dr Barsagade remains skeptical. “They are still not aware of the seriousness of the kurma practice. It appears they won’t wake up till there are several more deaths,” he rued.