Following murder of Fr. Moyalan, Christian leaders from India seeking protection.
KATHMANDU, Nepal, August 13 (Compass Direct News) – Father John Prakash Moyalan, the 62-year-old Catholic priest killed on July 1 by an underground militant Hindu organization in Nepal, might have been alive today – had he not been an Indian, according to the Himalayan republic’s Christian community.
With the law-and-order situation in the new republic plummeting since elections in April and relations with southern neighbor India becoming increasingly acrimonious, Christian leaders here said Indian Catholics in Nepal are facing a greater threat from Hindu extremists. The extremists blame New Delhi for the May 28 ouster of Nepal’s Hindu king Gyanendra Bir Bikram Shah Dev and the transformation of the world’s only Hindu kingdom into a secular state.
Father John Vianney, head of the Pastoral Animation Centre (PAC) in Lalitpur (located on the south side of the Bagmati River that separates it from Kathmandu), said PAC received five to six calls after the gunning down of Fr. Moyalan in Sirsiya town in south Nepal, the most volatile region in the country since the abolition of the monarchy.
“Fr. Prakash’s attackers took away his cellular phone,” Fr. Vianney told Compass. “Then they began calling the numbers stored in it, demanding money.”
Fr. Vianney himself took one of those calls.
“Are you a Nepali or Indian?” the caller asked the priest, who is from India’s Kerala state. “We are from the Nepal Defence Army [NDA], and we killed Fr. Prakash [Moyalan]. Our spies are everywhere. All of you are under surveillance. You better be on your guard.”
Nepal’s first bishop, Father Anthony Sharma, said he also received a similarly threatening call.
“Don’t engage in conversions,” the caller warned him. “Otherwise, we will chop you into little pieces.”
Most people who received the calls said the Nepali-speaking callers asserted that they were not against Christians. The jarring note came from their insistently as king if the recipients were Nepalese or Indian.
“The threats seem to have been directed towards Indians,” said Fr. Sharma. “Two more Indian priests, who had been working with Fr. Prakash in eastern Nepal on village development and education projects, also received warnings on the phone.”
Fr. Vianney estimated that there are about 40-45 Indian priests in Nepal. They are mostly from Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Goa and West Bengal. Indian priests, he said, are the softest targets.
“If a western priest comes under attack, his government will take it up immediately,” he said. “If a Nepalese priest is attacked, other Nepalese and the media will raise a hue and cry. But the Indian government doesn’t take up cudgels on behalf of its citizens in Nepal, and people feel they can be targeted with impunity.”
After Fr. Moyalan’s death, Christian leaders gave a report to the Indian Embassy in Nepal, but they said there has been no discernible official action.
“Police arrested five men, said to be members of the NDA,” said Fr. Sharma. “But we don’t know what happened after that.”
Fr. Moyalan’s murder marked a period of violence directed towards Christians and triggered growing fear in the community.
On July 18, 17 days after the attack at the Don Bosco School in Sirsiya in which Fr. Moyalan was killed, a bomb exploded inside the Protestant Jyoti Church in Banke district in southern Nepal.
Pamphlets left at the venue claimed the explosion to be the handiwork of the NDA.
Soon different Christian missions started receiving threatening calls. Alarmed Jesuits closed down the Don Bosco School and were on the verge of closing a second one, St. Mary’s School in Biratnagar, the home town of Nepal’s prime minister Girija Prasad Koirala.
Little is known about the NDA, a shadowy organization that hit the headlines last year when it claimed responsibility for a couple of minor explosions at the office of the former Maoist guerrillas in Kathmandu.
According to Nepalese weekly Ghatana R Bichar, it is run by a former policeman, who adopted the nom de guerre Parivartan, meaning “change.” The former policeman has claimed that NDA aims to re-establish Nepal as a Hindu kingdom and is training Hindu suicide bombers.
Parivartan also claims NDA has a large army of trained soldiers and has been putting together an arsenal of explosives, the ingredients for which are smuggled from India across the 1,800-kilometer open border.
Since the fall of the government headed by Gyanendra, the last king of Nepal, over two dozen armed gangs have been spreading terror in southern Nepal, the NDA among them. They are known to be involved in extortion, abduction and, at times, killings.
The NDA pamphlets left at the crime sites project a 21-point agenda, including restoration of Hinduism as the state religion, driving out all Muslims, putting an end to conversions, banning the slaughter of cows (considered a holy animal by Hindus) and a ban on having more than two children. The latter directive targets the Muslim population in southern Nepal, who consider family planning to be unlawful.
Anger grew among Nepal’s Christians over the government’s failure to provide security, and on July 28 Fr. Sharma held a meeting with home secretary Umesh Mainali in which he asked for police protection for Christian organizations.
“We received a letter from the Nepal Catholic Society,” said Home Ministry spokesman Modraj Dotel. “It was forwarded to the police headquarters for action.”
Now, the calls have stopped and people are rallying, said Fr. Sharma.
St. Mary’s reopened after students’ parents promised that they would provide security.
The Jesuits run 30 schools in Nepal and 40 social service centers. The beneficiaries are non-Christians from low-income households who have little or no access to education and health care. The projects are meant for mostly women and children.
About 2.5 percent of Nepal’s 25 million population are Christians. The majority – nearly 75 percent – are Hindus.
“Till parliament overwhelmingly declared Nepal a secular state, Christians, as non-Hindus, had been under some threat from the Hindu country,” said Fr. Sharma. “But threats don’t prevent us from carrying on.”
Fr. Vianney added a postscript. “Now we will be careful.”
Report from Compass Direct News