Nepal seeks to end social malpractices

July 25th, 2011 - 3:26 pm ICT by IANS  

Kathmandu, July 25 (IANS) An NGO in Nepal is seeking an end to 57 social “malpractices” and grisly traditions, including a cannibalistic custom that takes place when the king dies.

In 1955, when King Tribhuvan Bir Bikram Shah, who had ascended the throne of Nepal at the age of five, died, the practice was not so well documented. But 17 years later, when the 49-year-old’s successor and son Mahendra passed away, the outside world witnessed the ritual of a Brahmin accepting the “bad karma” of the dead king for a monetary consideration and then being banished from the kingdom.

It was a veiled reference to the “katto khane” tradition of Nepal, a cannibalistic ritual brought along by the ruling Shah dynasty of Nepal and observed during the deaths of its kings. In 2001, when a massacre in the royal palace saw two kings die in less than a week, the “katto khane” ritual was described and reported more explicitly.

Literally meaning to cut and eat, the ritual literally means having a Brahmin eat a part of flesh and bone hacked from the dead king’s body in the belief that by doing so, he would absorb all the demerits and bad luck of the dead king. The stigmatised Brahmin is then put on the back of an elephant and ordered to leave the kingdom.

It is believed that in the past, the kings brought Brahmins from neighbouring India to undertake the dark ritual as the Brahmins of Nepal were loath to perform a rite that would lead to their banishment from their homeland. From King Tribhuvan’s time it is believed that the banishment was only symbolic and that the Brahmin was allowed to stay on in the country.

“This is a cruel and stigmatising ritual that needs to be abolished,” says Uttam Niraula, executive director of SOCH (Society for Humanism) Nepal, a secular NGO that campaigns against superstition, malpractices arising due to religious beliefs and paranormal practices.

“Besides the Brahmin, who is compelled to leave the country or lie low, his entire family is branded as relatives of a human flesh-eater and ostracised.”

Some say that the actual practice of eating the dead king’s flesh was discontinued a long time ago and what the Brahmins ate subsequently was only a symbolic representation. SOCH Nepal says even a symbolic representation of such a horrifying custom should be banned, like the practice of sati - burning widows on the pyres of their husbands.

The NGO had been working with Nepal’s ministry of women, children and social welfare to draft a new law that would ban all social malpractices that give rise to discrimination and violence, often against women.

“The draft of the new act has been drawn up,” Niraula told IANS. “There are 57 malpractices that it seeks to end. There are already laws against some of these malpractices but these were not found to be effective, like the law against untouchability or branding a person as witch. The new law, when it is passed, will have tougher punishments.”

It will spell five to 10 years’ imprisonment and a fine between NRS 50,000 and 100,000, depending on the magnitude of the crime. It will also enable the victim to get compensation as well as free medical treatment.

However, Niraula says even the new law will not be sufficient to deter all the prevalent social malpractices.

“The katto khane tradition, for example, is not included among the 57 malpractices in the draft,” he says. “So SOCH Nepal is compiling a list of other bad practices that have not been touched. Besides cannibalism, there are nearly 30 other malpractices that should be banned.”

Once the list is ready, SOCH Nepal will begin lobbying the National Human Rights Commission, the National Women’s Commission and the ministries concerned to seek an end to these practices, Niraula said.

Besides ‘katto khane’, Nepal has other grisly traditions like drinking the blood of live yaks and biting a young kid to death and devouring its heart raw in the belief the blood and flesh enhance vitality.

(Sudeshna Sarkar can be contacted at sudeshna.s@ians.in)

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