While rest of the country was busy celebrating new year last week, Kabita BK in Mangalsen of Achham district didn’t even have time to sit down and finish her meal. The entire day she was trying to get away from her younger brother-in-laws who were beating her with bundles of nettle as part of a new year ritual prevalent in the far-west. “My brother-in-law broke into my room and started flogging me continuously. My skin is red and it stings really badly,” she says almost in tears.
Like Kabita, thousands of women in far-western Nepal are terrified of new year’s day. On 1 Baisak every year, younger brother and sister-in-laws lash their elder brothers’ wives with branches of stinging nettle because they believe this process will protect them from skin disease and allergies. “A few days before the celebrations, I get very worried and feel sick,” admits Kabita. The same ritual is observed during Bisu festival as well.
Family members usually outnumber the women making it impossible for them to escape and the ritual turns into a day-long torture. “I cannot even defend myself because there are too many floggers and they are much stronger than me,” says Kabita holding a bunch of nettle shoots herself as she tries to fight back her in-laws.
According to some locals, even those who do not have brother and sister-in-laws are required to whip themselves with nettle to keep this long-standing tradition alive.