In this part of Nepal, deep in the Himalayas, women are banished from their homes every month when they get their period.

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TURMAKHAND, Nepal — Not long ago, in rural western Nepal, Gauri Kumari Bayak was the spark of her village. Her strong voice echoed across the fields as she husked corn. When she walked down the road at a brisk clip, off to lead classes on birth control, many admired her self-confidence.

But last January, Bayak’s lifeless body was carried up the hill, a stream of mourners crying behind her. Her remains were burned, her dresses given away. The little hut where she was pressured to sequester herself during her menstrual period — and where she died — was smashed apart, erasing the last mark of another young life lost to a deadly superstition.

“I still can’t believe she’s not alive,” said Dambar Budha, her father-in-law, full of regret.

In this part of Nepal, deep in the Himalayas, women are banished from their homes every month when they get their period. They are considered polluted, even toxic, and an oppressive regime has evolved around this taboo, including the construction of a separate hut for menstruating women to sleep in. Some of the spaces are as tiny as a closet, walls made of mud or rock. Bayak died from smoke inhalation in hers as she tried to keep warm by a small fire in the bitter Himalayan winter.

Each year, at least one woman or girl — often more — dies in these huts, from exposure to the cold, smoke inhalation or attacks by animals. This month, another young woman was found dead in a menstruation hut, bitten by a snake. Her family tried to cover up the death, police said, by quickly burying her body, but authorities exhumed it and are investigating what happened.

The practice is called chhaupadi (CHOW-pa-dee) — from Nepali words that mean someone who bears an impurity — and it has been going on for hundreds of years. But the Nepali government and advocates for women are trying to end it. Starting in August, for the first time, it will be a crime to force a menstruating woman into seclusion, punishable by up to three months in jail, though it’s not clear if that’s going to make a dent in the tradition.

Many women keep doing it, out of intense social pressure or even guilt.

One woman, Mansara Nepali, sheepishly showed me her chhaupadi hut. Made of stone, it was no more than 3 feet tall. As Nepali, who thought she was about 35, bent herself nearly in half to get in, she thunked her head on the tiny door frame.

“We built this ourselves,” she said. “That’s why it’s not so good.”

“It’s all part of the suffering and humiliation women have to endure because of harsh traditions,” said Pashupati Kunwar, who runs a small aid group to help women. “Domestic violence is still bad. Child marriage is still high. We are trying to convince people that times are changing, but superstition is still strong.”

The chhaupadi tradition seems especially hard to break. From the earliest age, people here are taught that any contact with a menstruating woman will bring bad luck. Most do not question it.

“If a woman goes inside the family’s home during her period, three things will happen,” said a farmer named Runcho. “A tiger will come; the house will catch on fire; and the head of the house will get sick.”

Runcho spoke without any doubt. When asked if he had ever seen a tiger in his village, he smiled and didn’t answer yes or no, but then told a long story about how, maybe 10 years ago, he accidentally brushed up against his daughter when she was menstruating and lost his sight for several days.

“It was a nightmare,” he said.

As he spoke, his teenage niece was getting ready to crawl into a storage space beneath his house. The storage space was dark, cold, cramped and smelled like wet fur — and it was filled with itchy straw.

“I’m happy to go down there,” said the niece, Devika. “I don’t want my parents to get sick.”

Her uncle watched her closely.

“The only problem,” she added, “is that our mobiles don’t work down there. We need to go outside to check our Facebook updates.”

When I asked Runcho if he would like to sleep in the crawl space, he laughed. “Why should I?” he said. “It’s for women!”

Many religions observe rules about menstruation, and Hinduism places a special emphasis on purity and pollution. Still, scholars are not sure why the menstruation taboo is so strong in western Nepal, where countless villages, across an area comprising hundreds of miles, still practice it.

Some women have to sleep in the huts for an entire week. When it comes to meals, they are not allowed to cook, which several women said was a relief. They often sit by themselves in their huts and wait for family members to slide them plates of food.

During the day, the menstruating women work in the fields like everyone else, though they make sure not to come in contact with other villagers; at night, they go to the huts.

It was the death of Tulasi Shahi, 18, who was bitten by a snake last year while staying in a cow shed, that pushed lawmakers to write the new anti-chhaupadi law, several lawmakers said.

Though menstruating women of all ages sleep in the huts, chhaupadi seems to disproportionately kill the young. Activists said this may be because young women aren’t as savvy about protecting themselves; for example, they might not know which type of snakes are poisonous or how important it is to keep the hut’s door slightly open if there’s a fire burning.

“Our conclusion,” said Rewati Raman Bhandari, a former member of Parliament, “was that if we left this up to society to change, it would take hundreds of years.”

Budha, the father-in-law of the woman who died in January, Bayak, now tells as many people who will listen about the chhaupadi dangers. “But people don’t care,’’ he said.

It wasn’t lost on him that Bayak, who the family said was about 20 when she died, was something of a feminist, leading birth-control classes and encouraging women to stand up for themselves.

“But even she still followed this tradition,’’ he said. “The pressure’s too strong. If she hadn’t gone to the hut during her period, she would have felt embarrassed.’’

Since Bayak’s death, he has insisted his wife sleep in the main house during her period. “And you know what?’’ he said. “Nothing bad has happened. All these years, we’ve been fooled into believing a false superstition.’’