A teenage girl died in a cyclone in southern India after she was exiled to a hut during her period.
Vijaya Lakshmi, 14, was segregated from her family in Tamil Nadu province when Cyclone Gaja struck. She had just gotten her period for the first time.
Her family, from a village near the town of Pattukottai, was following a belief held by some Hindus in India that women are impure during their periods and should be separated from the rest of the family. Often focused on as a rural issue, the practice also occurs in cities and towns.
At least 40 people have died since Cyclone Gaja hit Tamil Nadu in mid-November, and the storm has also caused widespread damage.
While the storm raged, Vijaya’s family remained inside a separate building nearby and survived, but a tree fell on the hut where she was staying. Vijaya’s body was found the following day when the cyclone had passed.
Her grandmother, S. Visalakshi, told BBC News, “We are shattered.”
The grandmother said she had tried to persuade the family to move the girl to a different location before the cyclone hit. “When we saw the tree, we lost hope. We waited for villagers to help us remove the tree and pull her out of the hut,” she said.
Vijaya was taken to the hospital, but doctors pronounced her dead on arrival.
Images purportedly showing the young girl ahead of her burial were shared online, as people questioned the traditions that had contributed to her death and expressed their sadness.
“Girls who are left alone are more vulnerable,” Kavya Menon, a trustee with charity AWARE India, which works to promote safe menstrual hygiene, told the News Minute. “The whole community is responsible for this death and it cannot be pinned on the Gaja cyclone. Her death is a result of societal violence against women.”
Manjit K. Gill, founder of Binti, a menstrual health charity that works with communities in India, told BuzzFeed News that such deaths were common, “I have heard of at least three this year, but there are bound to be more because they are not told.”
“The conditions are horrible,” she said. “The practice is more prevalent in the rural communities but when you get to the cities because there is this lack of menstrual education they still follow the practices in some regard.”
She continued, “This is something that is changing in some places, but not fast enough.”
Manjit K. Gill’s name was misstated in an earlier version of this post.