Threat of Return to Hindu State in Nepal Looms


With deadline for new constitution approaching, Christians fear end of secular government.

KATHMANDU, Nepal, March 30 (CDN) — Four years after Nepal became officially secular, fear is growing that the country could revert to the Hindu state it was till 2006, when proclaiming Christ was a punishable offense and many churches functioned clandestinely to avoid being shut down.

Concerns were heightened after Nepal’s deposed King Gyanendra Shah, once regarded as a Hindu god, broke the silence he has observed since Nepal abolished monarchy in 2008. During his visit to a Hindu festival this month, the former king said that monarchy was not dead and could make a comeback if people so desired.

Soon after that, Krishna Prasad Bhattarai, a former prime minister and respected leader of the largest ruling party, said that instead of getting a new constitution, Nepal should revive an earlier one. The 1990 constitution declared Nepal a Hindu kingdom with a constitutional monarch.

There is now growing doubt that the ruling parties will not be able to fashion the new constitution they promised by May.

“We feel betrayed,” said Dr. K.B. Rokaya, general secretary of the National Council of Churches of Nepal. “The Constituent Assembly we elected to give us a new constitution that would strengthen democracy and secularism has frittered away the time and opportunity given to it.”

The clamor for a Hindu state has been growing as the May 28 deadline for the new constitution draws near. When a Hindu preacher, Kalidas Dahal, held a nine-day prayer ritual in Kathmandu this month seeking reinstatement of Hinduism as the state religion, thousands of people flocked to him. The throng included three former prime ministers and top leaders of the ruling parties.

“The large turnout signals that Hinduism is enshrined in the hearts of the people and can’t be abolished by the government,” said Hridayesh Tripathi, a former minister and Constituent Assembly member whose Terai Madhes Loktantrik Party is the fifth-largest in the ruling alliance. “It was a mistake to abolish Hinduism in a hurry.”

Another blow for a Hindu state was struck by the Rastriya Prajatantra Party-Nepal (RPP-N), the only party that fought the 2008 election in support of monarchy and a Hindu state. It is now calling for a referendum. As a pressure tactic, it paralyzed the capital and its two neighboring cities in February by calling a general strike.

“The election gave the Constituent Assembly the mandate of writing a new constitution, not deciding issues of national importance,” said Kamal Thapa, the RPP-N chief who also was home minister during the brief government headed by Gyanendra. “Most people in Nepal want a Hindu state and a constitutional king. If their demand is not heeded, they will feel excluded and refuse to follow the new constitution. We are asking the government to hold a referendum on the two issues before May 28.”

With only two months left, it is clear the demand can’t be met if the constitution is to come into effect within the stipulated time. Now the specter of anarchy and violence hangs over Nepal.

Nepal’s Maoists, who fought a 10-year war to make Nepal a secular republic and who remain the former king’s most bitter enemy, say attempts have begun to whip up riots in the name of a Hindu state. The former guerrillas also allege that the campaign for the restoration of Hinduism as the state religion is backed by ministers, politicians from the ruling parties and militant religious groups from India.

Effectively Hindu

Even if a new, secular constitution is approved by the deadline, there is still no guarantee that the rights of religious minorities would be protected.

Nilambar Acharya, who heads the committee that is drafting the new constitution, said it would be merely a broad guideline for the government; compatible laws would have to be drafted to protect rights.

“The previous constitution abolished ‘untouchability’ [a practice among Hindus of treating those at the bottom of the social ladder as outcasts],” Acharya told Compass. “But untouchability still exists in Nepal. To achieve all that the constitution promises, the mindset of society has to be changed first. For that, you need political will.”

Though Nepal became secular in 2006, Hinduism still gets preferential treatment. The state allocates funds for institutions like the Kumari, the tradition of choosing prepubescent girls as protective deities of the state and worshipping them as “living goddesses.” The state also gave money to organizers of a controversial, five-yearly religious festival, the Gadhimai Fair, where tens of thousands of birds are slaughtered as offerings to Hindu gods despite international condemnation.

There is no support, predictably, for Christian festivals. When the Constituent Assembly was formed – partly though election and partly by nomination – no Christian name was proposed even though the prime minister was authorized to nominate members from unrepresented communities.

Christian leaders want such religious bias abolished. Rokaya of the National Council of Churches of Nepal said Christians have recommended full freedom of religion in the new constitution: allowing one to follow the religion of one’s choice, to change one’s religion if desired or have the right not to be associated with any religion.

The churches have also asked the state not to interfere in religious matters.

“We are asking the government not to fund any religious activity, not to be part of any religious appointments and not to allow public land for any religious event,” Rokaya said.

The recommendations, however, may not be heeded. During their brief stint in power, the Maoists tried to stop state assistance for the Kumari. It led to violence and a general strike in the capital, forcing the party to withdraw the decision.

In its 2009 report on religious freedom in Nepal, the U.S. Department of State notes that while the interim constitution officially declared the country secular, “the president, in his capacity as head of state, attended major Hindu religious ceremonies over which the king previously presided.”

It also notes that there were reports of societal abuses and discrimination based on religious affiliation, belief, or practice.

“Those who converted to a different religious group occasionally faced violence and were ostracized socially,” it states. “Those who chose to convert to other religious groups, in particular Hindu citizens who converted to Islam or Christianity, were sometimes ostracized. They occasionally faced isolated incidents of hostility or discrimination from Hindu extremist groups. Some reportedly were forced to leave their villages.”

Dr. Ramesh Khatri, executive director of Association for Theological Education in Nepal, has experienced such persecution first-hand. When he became a Christian in 1972, his father disowned him. Then in 1984 he was arrested for holding a Bible camp. Though the case against him was dropped in 1990 after a pro-democracy movement, Khatri said hatred of Christians still persists.

“Christians can never sleep peacefully at night,” he said wryly. “The new constitution will make Nepal another India, where Christians are persecuted in Orissa, Gujarat and Karnataka.” The Oxford University-educated Khatri, who writes a column in a Nepali daily, said violent responses to his articles show how Nepal still regards its Christians.

“I am attacked as a ‘Rice Christian,’” he said. “It is a derogatory term implying I converted for material benefits. The antagonistic feeling society has towards Christians will not subside with the new constitution, and we can’t expect an easy life. The Bible says that, and the Bible is true.”

Christians continue to face persecution and harassment. In March, missions resource organization Timeless Impact International (TII) noted that a church in northern Nepal, near the foothills of Mt. Everest, was attacked by a local mob.

The newly established church in Dolakha district was attacked during a fellowship meeting in January. An ethnic mob headed by religious leaders destroyed the church meeting place, assaulted participants and warned them not to speak about Christianity in the village, TII said.

The situation, even now, remained unchanged.

“None of the church members have been able to return to their homes,” TII stated. “They feel completely unsafe and at risk.”

Report from Compass Direct News 

PEACEFUL CHRISTMAS IN ORISSA CLEARS WAY FOR REBUILDING EFFORT


Since August, it’s believed more than 500 Christians were killed in radical Hindu violence against Christians. The attacks destroyed church and homes. Thousands of Christians are displaced, some living in camps, reports MNN.

Founder and President of Gospel for Asia KP Yohannan says his ministry is making a commitment to these victims. “We have in Orissa a need to rebuild at least 1,000 homes of believers, Christians. Each home they tell me cost about $2,500 to build, [which includes] two rooms, and a kitchen.”

The great thing is India Christians aren’t depending on western money to do the work. Yohannan says, “Our own churches, poor believers, are believing God to raise about $ 1-million from all over the country — churches raising money to build these houses.”

He says a poor economy isn’t having an effect on their commitment. “Even though the economy is down and problems are there, there is a new beginning of ownership, compassion, caring and willing to pay the price by the churches and the people of God on the subcontinent.”

Yohannan says GFA needs to raise an additional $1.2 million to completely fund the project.

In an area where Christians are in the minority, Yohannan says this rebuilding project will speak loudly. “Jesus said, ‘by this all will know that you are mine if you love one another.’ And, what better way can we demonstrate to a community that does not know the Lord when we go and build 10, 15, 20 or 30 houses in the community.”

While GFA has a number of priorities, Yohannan says, “The number one priority on our mind right now is to rebuild these houses next year. We don’t want to lose one day on this issue because of the number of people involved.”

Some reports indicated these believers don’t want to return. Yohannan says, “They all want to go back. I’m sure there are some that may be scared to death because their husband or wife was killed. But, generally speaking I’m hearing the all want to go back, but they have nothing to go back to.”

Yohannan says government officials have committed to provide protection once these homes are rebuilt.

Report from the Christian Telegraph

TWO MUSLIM-BACKGROUND CHRISTIANS IN IRAN ARE NOW FREE


While Iran’s proposed apostasy law is still waiting to be ratified, the Christian community received some good news. Two Muslim-background believers were released by authorities, reports MNN.

Glenn Penner with Voice of the Martyrs Canada (VOMC) says, “Both Mahmood Matin-Azad and Arash Basirat have been released from an Iranian prison, after they had met with a tribunal who had ruled that the charges against them were invalid.”

While the charges were essentially apostasy, says Penner, “It had very much to do with what they called an’ offense’ to Islam and a diffusion of falsities; in other words, they were spreading lies.”

We asked Penner if he thought the arrest of these men was a precursor to the new apostasy law. “It’s hard to say. It is the first time that Christians have been released after a trial. On other occasions, typically Iranian converts are released after a few weeks or a few months in jail. You might say that’s a positive sign.”

Pressure by the European Union may have contributed to the release, but Penner says it’s hard to say whether this is a good sign, or just a sign of appeasement.

Penner says this is a time of spiritual openness in Iran. “The young people, in particular, are open to hearing the Gospel, and there is a real deep disillusionment with Islam at this point.”

VOMC is providing you an opportunity to help believers in Iran. Penner says, “We have been helping Christians in Iran over the years, particularly with Christian literature. So if people want to support our brothers and sisters in that way, certainly they could make a donation to what we call our Equipping the Saints fund.”

Report from the Christian Telegraph