Nepal Besieged

BY DINESH WAGLE
Aug 07, 2010

Hindu fundamentalism and European proselytizing are threatening secular Nepal.

 

A conference of Nepali and Indian ultra-Hindu rightists in Mumbai last week decided to launch “a coordinated campaign to re-establish Nepal as a Hindu state”. Kamal Thapa, who sees his future in religion-based politics, said the conference expressed concern over sinister plans being carried out in Nepal to wipe out its identity as a Hindu state.

In New Delhi, I met a former Nepali lawmaker.

“Do you think Ramdev went to teach yoga?” he asked, referring to the Indian yoga guru’s highly publicised trip to Nepal a week earlier. “No. He was there to explore possibilities of establishing a new political party. That is why he met and talked to a variety of people during his stay.”

“You mean Ramdev will open a party in Nepal?”

“No, he and other people [from India] will help Nepalis to form a political force,” he said.

“Mark my words; we will soon see a rightist party in action in Nepal that will advocate restoration of Hindu Rashtra Nepal.”

The chronic disease of Hindu fundamentalism that has been spreading the viruses of hatred in India has slowly been asserting itself in Nepal in recent months. Under the more appealing banner of Hindutva, Nepali agents of the Indian Hindu right are gradually pushing the agenda of restoration of the monarchy. As the popularly elected political leadership is struggling to draft a constitution and take the peace process to a logical conclusion, these religious zealots are equating the issue of Hindu Rashtra with the dead monarchy.

What I know for sure is that people like me, liberal Hindus with a secular mindset, are in an overwhelming majority in Nepal. We want the country to be a forum equally accessible for people of all faiths.

What I know for sure is that people like me, liberal Hindus with a secular mindset, are in an overwhelming majority in Nepal. We want the country to be a forum equally accessible for people of all faiths. My own view is that religion is certainly not opium but a cigarette that should be smoked in private without disturbing other people. I feel that people shouldn’t be classified according to their religious standing. They shouldn’t be asked about their religion in the national census. People should be given complete freedom to have or not to have faith in religion. That is precisely what our Interim Constitution does. More importantly, it bars forced conversion.

 

A Hindu devotee receives blessings during Shivaratri, or the Night of Shiva, deemed as the most important day of the Shiva followers. Thousands of Hindus make a pilgrimage Pashupatinath temple in Kathmandu, and it is believed that performing a ritual on this sacred day will absolve one of all sins.

A Hindu devotee receives blessings during Shivaratri, or the Night of Shiva, deemed as the most important day of Shiva followers. Thousands of Hindus make a pilgrimage to Pashupatinath temple in Kathmandu, and it is believed that performing a ritual on this sacred day will absolve one of all sins.

Photo credit: Edwin Koo


But some people with vested interests are not happy with this constitutional provision. A few weeks ago, I read a report in the Post that said, “The European Union… urged the [Nepal] government to allow ‘full freedom’ to proselytise while drafting the new constitution.” A letter forwarded by the French Embassy, in its capacity as the EU local presidency in Kathmandu, to the government said the current constitutional provisions on religious rights were “limited”. The sinister motive of the letter is clear: Buying poor Nepalis to Christianity should be legalised.

This letter is a textbook example of unsavory forces trying to fish in the troubled waters of Nepal that is going through a difficult transitional crisis. Countries like Malta, Monaco, Greece, Denmark, Iceland, Norway, Switzerland, and England, with their official religion, have a long way to go to become a secular nation like Nepal. The EU should write such letters to Germany and Finland, apart from the aforementioned countries, where the Evangelical and Roman Catholic Church and Finnish Orthodox Church enjoy de facto privileged status. Okay, for once, forget all this. Go and tell the Vatican City to become secular before lecturing us on religious freedom. Ask the BBC to give equal coverage to Benedict XVI and Ramdev, will you? This type of brazen intervention undermines our secularists’ fight against Hindu fundamentalists in Nepal. This intervention also strengthens people like Kamal Thapa.

And France, by the way, should be the last country to advise us on religious affairs. In its 2009 edition of the annual International Religious Freedom report, the US State Department says the French government’s “discriminatory treatment of Jehovah’s Witnesses and Scientologists remained a concern”. The report says, “Some religious groups voiced opposition to legislation passed in 2001 and 2004, which provides for the dissolution of groups under certain circumstances and bans wearing of conspicuous religious symbols by public school employees and students.”

France not only violated its own 1905 law on the separation of religion and the state that prohibits discrimination on the basis of faith by banning Muslim symbols and allowing Christian symbols to be worn. According to several reports, many people belonging to the Muslim faith have been forced to leave France because of tightening control over religious freedom, and on October 2004, two female junior high school students, Dounia and Khouloudewere, aged 12 and 13 respectively, were the first to be expelled under a draconian French law for refusing to take off their headscarves.

The Europeans, instead of unnecessarily poking their nose into Nepali affairs, should rather go for trekking in the Himalaya and enjoy their Nepal assignment which anyway is nothing but a long holiday for them.

 

This post was originally published on Wagle Street Journal in May 2010.

 

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