Showing posts with label Nepal. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Nepal. Show all posts

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Nepal: secular or Hindu?

Nepal running out of time
By Dhruba Adhikary, 4 March 2010

Writing from Kathmandu for Asia Times on-line, Dhruba Ahikary comments: "Nepal's transition from a Hindu monarchy to a secular republic is not going smoothly, and not just over the fast-approaching May 28 deadline for the nation's new constitution."

Apart from the issue of federalism, the question of whether Nepal should be a secular or a Hindu state is back in play, causing alarm amongst religious liberty observers.

The small royalist Rashtriya Prajatantra Party-Nepal (RPP-Nepal) is calling for a referendum on Nepal's status.

Adhikary continues (with some debatable analysis): "Hinduism, the third-largest religion after Christianity and Islam, is known for its tolerance towards other faiths. Nepal, with a sizeable Muslim population, does not possess the type of religious rivalries seen in India.

"This, however, is undergoing a subtle change. There are growing feelings that too much tolerance could impact on Nepal's Hindu way of life, especially if there is a lack of reciprocity from other faiths. The concern has grown since the proselytizing activities of Western groups that had entered Nepal in the garb of non-governmental organizations were exposed.

"The Hindu backlash against Nepal becoming a secular state has grown since 2006 when the monarchy first fell and the state was established, but the leaders of some prominent political parties believe the recent popular movements may also be a power play by right-wing elements. And they are also jittery about a possible revival of the monarchy. [. . .]

"Maoist leader Pushpa Kamal Dahal (popularly known as Prachanda) has now become one of two important figures who concede that the secularization of Nepal was a mistake. The other person is none other than the incumbent President Ram Baran Yadav. [. . .]

"If Nepal's secularization was a mistake, this could be rectified when Nepal receives its new constitution. There is no need for a simultaneous restoration of the monarchy, which ceased being the custodian of the nation's Hindus after the notorious palace massacre of 2001. Nepal could now learn to stand as a Hindu republic, not a kingdom."

---------------

There is indeed a popular groundswell of support for Nepal restoring its status as a Hindu State, if not a Hindu monarchy.

Special ritual Hindu prayers and sacrifices have been undertaken in Kathmandu with the objective of the restoration of Nepal as a Hindu State. The organiser of the yagna (ritual prayers), Kali Baba, has already threatened that he will self immolate unto death if Nepal is not declared a Hindu state soon. Nepal’s deposed King Gyanendra has visited the yagna and expressed support for a declaration of Nepal as a Hindu State.
See: Nepal’s ex-King favors revival of Hindu State, hold talks with senior NC leader
9 March 2010, Telegraph Nepal

According to Nepalnew.com, over 200,000 devotees including many dignitaries have visited the yagna. "Many political leaders including those from the Unified CPN (Maoist), the party which does not believe in existence of god in principle and officially advocated for a secular nation, have also visited Kalidas Baba's Mahagya. Reports say, the Maoist leaders visited the Yagya at night to avoid media attention."

According to Telegraph Nepal: "Nepal’s deputy Prime Minister Sujata Koirala-Jost has said that the demand for Hindu State must be listened and be incorporated in the new constitution.

"'It would be unwise not to address the genuine demands of 85 per cent Nepali Hindus', she said adding and 'How can we only incorporate demands of Janajatis and ignore voice of the Hindus?'"

see also: Hindu state to be addressed : DPM (The Himalayan, 21 Feb)

And it looks like Pranchada has indeed undergone religious conversion for political gain.
see: Buffalo Worship pays in Nepal politics. Telegraph Nepal, 22 Feb 2010

------------

Christian Solidarity Worldwide has published an excellent report on the threat to religious liberty posed by anti-conversion measures likely to be incorporated into Nepal's new constitution.

Nepal: Religious freedom and the new constitution
1 March 2010

CSW notes: "The Constituent Assembly (CA) of Nepal, created by the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) and elected in April 2008, took the fundamental decision to abolish the monarchy and declare Nepal a secular republic. However, this decision, with significant implications for religious freedom, is yet to be enshrined in law, and can only be regarded as a statement of intent until it is reflected in a new constitution. As Nepal formalises the transition from Hindu monarchy to secular republic, in the promulgation of a new constitution due in May 2010, the right to freedom of religion and belief must be protected if the transition is to be a successful one. . .

"The current interim constitution fails to protect religious freedom in a manner consistent with the provisions of international law. There is no religious freedom at all for those whose own religion is not 'handed down to him or her from ancient times paying due regard to social and cultural traditions', either because their religion does not have the character of being handed down in that way, or because they have changed religion. The provision that 'no person shall be entitled to convert another person from one religion to another' is in violation of the freedom to manifest religion or belief under Article 18 of the ICCPR. The stipulation that 'no person shall act or behave in a manner which may infringe upon the religion of others' is ill-defined, and open to abuse."

-----------

A Hindu nationalist backlash against the transition to secularism was inevitable. Indeed, I wrote a piece only a week after the May 2006 declaration of a secular state, entitled, "Nepal: Hindutva forces rally against Nepal's reforms" (26 May 2006) which noted: "Not long after Nepal's new House of Representatives (HoR) passed the resolution to declare Nepal a secular democracy, the Hindu rhetoric to start to rise – both in Nepal and in neighbouring India."

Hindu nationalism is essentially about Hindus seeking to preserve their caste privilege through the establishment of a Hindu State.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Nepal: Militant Hindutva raises its ugly head.

Date: Tuesday 8 April 2008
Subj: Nepal: Militant Hindutva raises its ugly head.
To: World Evangelical Alliance Religious Liberty News & Analysis
From: WEA RLC Principal Researcher and Writer, Elizabeth Kendal


NEPAL: MILITANT HINDUTVA RAISES ITS UGLY HEAD
- as historic elections approach.



HISTORIC ELECTIONS: THURSDAY 10 APRIL

On 10 April 08, Nepalis will vote in historic constituent assembly elections. And this is no routine election -- it is the culmination of three years of upheaval and peace process. The constituent assembly elected on 10 April will draft the new secular constitution which will replace the 1990 Constitution which describes Nepal as a Hindu Kingdom.

BACKGROUND

On 1 February 2005 Nepal's King Gyanendra, backed by the Nepalese Army, dismissed the Prime Minister and his government and seized absolute power in a bloodless coup. Anti-monarchy sentiment subsequently soared and in November 2005 the previously disparate opposition parties joined forces to form the Seven Party Alliance (SPA) in opposition to direct, totalitarian royal rule.

In April 2006, crippling mass demonstrations in Kathmandu ultimately forced King Gyanendra to step down and hand power to SPA. The Maoists then declared a ceasefire. On 18 May 2006 Nepal's new parliament publicly declared that Nepal would no longer be a Hindu Kingdom but would now be a secular state. An interim government was formed that included the Maoists.

On 21 November 2006 the Maoists and the SPA signed a Comprehensive Peace Agreement committed to advancing human rights and equity, bringing to an end the decade-long civil conflict. Constituent assembly elections were slated for June 2007, after which a new Constitution would be drafted. (See LINK 1)

Various setbacks, including insecurity and political fractures with the Maoist, forced the postponement of the elections in June 2007 and then again in November 2007.

Over recent months various anti-democratic, anti-secular and marginalised ethnic groups have been escalating their protests, militancy, and violent intimidation of voters in the run-up to the historic elections, forcing Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala to appeal to all political parties to put an end to the violence.

Security has been bolstered and some 135,000 police are being deployed to polling booths in Nepal's 240 constituencies. There is also considerable concern that after the elections, powerful, armed, not-so-democratic losers might undo Nepal's tentative peace.

MILITANT HINDUTVA RAISES ITS UGLY HEAD

Needless to say, not everyone was excited by the 18 May 2006 declaration of secularism. Nepal's Hindutva (Hindu nationalist) elements, with backing from Hindutva forces in India, immediately increased their intolerant rhetoric and exploited the confusion of the Hindu masses.

On 22 May 2006 some 5000 Hindus rallied in Birgunj, a southern town in the "Hindutva belt" on the border with India, protesting the parliament's resolution to turn Nepal into a secular state. The rallies were organised by activists from the World Hindu Federation (WHF) and Shiv Sena Nepal. The protestors blocked the Tribhuvan highway on the Bara-Parsa industrial belt near the Indian border. Shouting "Jay Shree Ram!" (Lord Ram is great!), they burnt tyres, logs and newspapers that supported the resolution. (See LINK 2)

A group calling itself the Nepal Defense Army (NDA) committed several minor acts of terrorism during 2007, primarily targeting Maoist institutions. It claims it is fighting for Nepal's reinstatement as a Hindu state.

On the evening of Wednesday 12 March 2008 a bomb exploded in the regional office of Kantipur Publications in Biratnagar, a city some 240 km south-east of Kathmandu in the Hindutva belt on the Indian border. Kantipur, a Nepali news service, reported that the explosion caused no harm to the staff or the office property. "Though it was not immediately clear who carried out the attack, the pamphlets found at the explosion site suggested that 'Nepal Defense Army' was responsible. The pamphlets read 'Nepal Defense Army for Hindu Kingdom'." (LINK 3)

MOSQUE BOMBING


On the evening of Saturday 29 March 2008, three powerful bombs ripped through the Sarouchiya Mosque in Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala's hometown of Biratnagar. A fourth bomb failed to explode and was later defused. Two locals were killed in the blasts, while two others were hospitalised with critical injuries.

According to Kantipur, "Two unidentified persons, who came on motorcycles, had lobbed four bombs while over 60 persons were busy reciting evening prayers inside the mosque.

"An eyewitness, Malik Alam Kuresi, said the unidentified men hurled the four bombs from the gate and fled the scene. 'However, only three of them (bombs) went off immediately.'

"Meanwhile, an underground group -- Nepal Defense Army -- took responsibility for the blasts. One R P Mainali aka Paribartan, who identified himself as 'supreme commander' of the group, owned up the group's involvement in the blast, in a press statement." (LINK 4)

In a statement sent to media outlets, the Nepal Defense Army vowed it "would continue such attacks until Nepal is reinstated as a Hindu nation."

The Times of India reported: "Soon after the attacks, Muslims began demonstrations on streets. Fearing a riot, the district administration clamped curfew from Saturday night. When the curfew was lifted in the morning, Muslims called a strike in Jhapa, Morang and Sunsari districts, ignoring [PM] Koirala's appeal to show restraint." (LINK 5)

An October 2007 article by Prashant Jha in the Himal SouthAsian entitled "Royal Hindutva -- The Hindu right in Nepal is currently down, but not out" provides insight to the relationship between Hindutva forces in Nepal and India. [In fact, Jha's article makes one wonder: what would it mean for Nepal if India's BJP won power in India's 2009 federal elections?]

Concern Nepal, Jha writes: "India's Hindu right does not like what it sees taking place in Nepal. Angry that the country is headed towards becoming a secular, democratic republic, it can see its traditional influence in Nepali politics waning. A terminal blow has now been dealt to the two pillars central to what the Hindutva-wallahs have cherished about Nepal: a Hindu rashtra [state] with a Hindu monarchy.

"But Hindutva leaders from both India and Nepal have not given up. They have been brainstorming -- at the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) headquarters in Nagpur, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) office in New Delhi, the Gorakhnath temple in Gorakhpur, and at the residence of royalist politicians in Kathmandu -- as well as with King Gyanendra at the Narayanhiti Palace. However, the Indian and Nepali Hindu right recognises the limits of its capacity, and does not have a clear rescue plan as yet [Oct 07]. ." (LINK 6)

Maybe the recent mosque bombing in Biratnagar signals a shift in Hindutva strategy. Perhaps the Hindutva agenda will be advanced, not through riots or minor acts of terrorism against Maoists and journalists, but, as in India, through the fomenting of sectarian strife.

Elizabeth Kendal

LINKS

1) Nepal: Peace, equity and religious liberty.
WEA RLC News & Analysis. By Elizabeth Kendal. 29 Nov 2006.
ALSO
Chronology of Nepal's peace process
http://thepost.com.pk/IntNews.aspx?dtlid=154137&catid=1

2) Nepal: Hindutva forces rally against Nepal's reforms.
WEA RLC News & Analysis. By Elizabeth Kendal. 26 May 2006
http://www.ea.org.au/ReligiousLiberty/NewsAnalysis/NEPALHINDUTVAFORCESRALLYAGAINSTNEPALSREFORMS.aspx

3) Blast at Kantipur office
Kantipur Report. BIRATNAGAR, 13 March 2008
http://www.kantipuronline.com/kolnews.php?&nid=140608

4) 2 dead in Biratnagar mosque bomb blasts, 2 others critically injured
Kantipur Report. BIRATNAGAR, 30 March 2008
http://www.kantipuronline.com/kolnews.php?&nid=142440

5) Muslims call strike after Nepal blasts. 31 March 2008
http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/Nepal_Muslims_call_strike_after_blasts/articleshow/2912369.cms

6) Royal Hindutva
The Hindu right in Nepal is currently down, but not out.
By Prashant Jha, October 2007
http://www.himalmag.com/2007/october_november/royal_hindutva.html

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

NEPAL: PEACE, EQUALITY AND RELIGIOUS LIBERTY

Date: Wednesday 29 November 2006
Subj: Nepal: Peace, equality and religious liberty.
To: World Evangelical Alliance Religious Liberty News & Analysis
From: WEA RLC Principal Researcher and Writer, Elizabeth Kendal


On 1 February 2005 Nepal's King Gyanendra, backed by the Nepalese Army, dismissed the Prime Minister and his government, seized absolute power in a bloodless coup and declared a state of emergency. He claimed the move was necessary to combat the Maoist insurgency. Civil rights were suspended, the press was muzzled and opposition leaders were imprisoned.

But King Gyanendra did not anticipate the consequences of his royal coup. Not only did it send anti-monarchy sentiment soaring but the royal coup brought Nepal's warring parties together, united and re-focused by their opposition to direct, totalitarian royal rule.

In November 2005 the Maoists met with the seven major opposition political parties in New Dehli, India. With India as mediator they reached an agreement to work together to end the king's rule.

In April 2006, after 19 days of continuous, massive public demonstrations that crippled Kathmandu, King Gyanendra stepped down and handed power to the Seven Party Alliance (SPA). The Maoists declared a ceasefire, the SPA agreed to drop the terrorist label from the Maoists, include them in a future government and release their cadres from prison. The Maoists agreed to end their guerrilla war and eventually lay down their arms.

On 18 May Nepal's new parliament publicly declared that Nepal would no longer be a Hindu Kingdom but would now be a secular state.

On Tuesday 21 November the Maoists and the SPA signed a Comprehensive Peace Agreement, bringing to an end the decade-long conflict that has claimed more than 13,000 lives, caused immense suffering, and compounded poverty and hardship nationwide. (Link 1)

Most importantly, the peace agreement reiterates the commitment to uphold civil rights, human rights, equality and religious liberty as defined by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

In Article 3.5 of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement both parties agree to "End the existing centralised and unitary state system and restructure it into an inclusive, democratic progressive system to address various problems including that of women, Dalits, indigenous community, Madhesis, oppressed, ignored and minority communities, backward regions by ending prevailing class, ethnic, linguistic, gender, cultural, religious and regional discrimination."

Article 7.1.1 reads: "Both parties reaffirm their commitment to respect and protect human rights and international humanitarian law and accept that no individual shall be discriminated on the basis of caste, gender, language, religion, age, ethnic groups, national or social origin, property, disability, birth or any other status, thoughts or conscience." (Link 2)

The Guardian reports: "An interim government is due to be formed on December 1, with rebels getting get 73 of the chamber's 330 seats. The Nepali Congress will remain the biggest party, with 85 seats, and the Maoists will share second place with the Communist party of Nepal. The rest will be held by smaller parties." (Link 3)

The election of the Constituent Assembly is slated for June 2007, after which a new Constitution will be drafted.

New challenges will doubtless present themselves, such as the emergence of religious (Hindu nationalists) political parties and separatism. Jaykrishna Goit's Terai Jantantrik Liberation Front is fanning separatism in the southern lowlands, the Terai (Nepal's "breadbasket") which is populated overwhelmingly by Madhesis. Madhesis form up to 50 percent of the population of Nepal and 95 percent of all Madhesis live in the Terai. The Madhesis are Nepalese of Indian origin and have for decades suffered crippling discrimination, including from the Maoists. Madhesis' grievances and marginalisation will have to be addressed if a new conflict is to be prevented.


Links

1) Comprehensive Peace Accord signed, Armed Insurgency declared officially
over http://www.nepalnews.com/archive/2006/nov/nov21/news12.php

2) Full text of Comprehensive Peace Agreement (21 Nov 2006)
http://www.gorkhapatra.org.np/content.php?nid=6736
or http://www.nepalnews.com/archive/main.htm

Full text of the decisions of the SPA-Maoist summit meeting (8 Nov 2006)
http://www.nepalnews.com/archive/2006/nov/nov08/Full_text_summit_meeting.php

3) Nepal rejoices as peace deal ends civil war
Randeep Ramesh, south Asia correspondent
Thursday 23 November 2006
http://www.guardian.co.uk/international/story/0,,1954695,00.html

Nepal: Peace, equality and religious liberty.

Date: Wednesday 29 November 2006
Subj: Nepal: Peace, equality and religious liberty.
To: World Evangelical Alliance Religious Liberty News & Analysis
From: WEA RLC Principal Researcher and Writer, Elizabeth Kendal


On 1 February 2005 Nepal's King Gyanendra, backed by the Nepalese Army, dismissed the Prime Minister and his government, seized absolute power in a bloodless coup and declared a state of emergency. He claimed the move was necessary to combat the Maoist insurgency. Civil rights were suspended, the press was muzzled and opposition leaders were imprisoned.

But King Gyanendra did not anticipate the consequences of his royal coup. Not only did it send anti-monarchy sentiment soaring but the royal coup brought Nepal's warring parties together, united and re-focused by their opposition to direct, totalitarian royal rule.

In November 2005 the Maoists met with the seven major opposition political parties in New Dehli, India. With India as mediator they reached an agreement to work together to end the king's rule.

In April 2006, after 19 days of continuous, massive public demonstrations that crippled Kathmandu, King Gyanendra stepped down and handed power to the Seven Party Alliance (SPA). The Maoists declared a ceasefire, the SPA agreed to drop the terrorist label from the Maoists, include them in a future government and release their cadres from prison. The Maoists agreed to end their guerrilla war and eventually lay down their arms.

On 18 May Nepal's new parliament publicly declared that Nepal would no longer be a Hindu Kingdom but would now be a secular state.

On Tuesday 21 November the Maoists and the SPA signed a Comprehensive Peace Agreement, bringing to an end the decade-long conflict that has claimed more than 13,000 lives, caused immense suffering, and compounded poverty and hardship nationwide. (Link 1)

Most importantly, the peace agreement reiterates the commitment to uphold civil rights, human rights, equality and religious liberty as defined by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

In Article 3.5 of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement both parties agree to "End the existing centralised and unitary state system and restructure it into an inclusive, democratic progressive system to address various problems including that of women, Dalits, indigenous community, Madhesis, oppressed, ignored and minority communities, backward regions by ending prevailing class, ethnic, linguistic, gender, cultural, religious and regional discrimination."

Article 7.1.1 reads: "Both parties reaffirm their commitment to respect and protect human rights and international humanitarian law and accept that no individual shall be discriminated on the basis of caste, gender, language, religion, age, ethnic groups, national or social origin, property,
disability, birth or any other status, thoughts or conscience." (Link 2)

The Guardian reports: "An interim government is due to be formed on December 1, with rebels getting get 73 of the chamber's 330 seats. The Nepali Congress will remain the biggest party, with 85 seats, and the Maoists will share second place with the Communist party of Nepal. The rest will be held by smaller parties." (Link 3)

The election of the Constituent Assembly is slated for June 2007, after which a new Constitution will be drafted.

New challenges will doubtless present themselves, such as the emergence of religious (Hindu nationalists) political parties and separatism. Jaykrishna Goit's Terai Jantantrik Liberation Front is fanning separatism in the southern lowlands, the Terai (Nepal's "breadbasket") which is populated overwhelmingly by Madhesis. Madhesis form up to 50 percent of the population of Nepal and 95 percent of all Madhesis live in the Terai. The Madhesis are Nepalese of Indian origin and have for decades suffered crippling discrimination, including from the Maoists. Madhesis' grievances and marginalisation will have to be addressed if a new conflict is to be prevented.

Elizabeth Kendal

Links

1) Comprehensive Peace Accord signed, Armed Insurgency declared officially
over http://www.nepalnews.com/archive/2006/nov/nov21/news12.php

2) Full text of Comprehensive Peace Agreement (21 Nov 2006)
http://www.gorkhapatra.org.np/content.php?nid=6736
or http://www.nepalnews.com/archive/main.htm

Full text of the decisions of the SPA-Maoist summit meeting (8 Nov 2006)
http://www.nepalnews.com/archive/2006/nov/nov08/Full_text_summit_meeting.php

3) Nepal rejoices as peace deal ends civil war
Randeep Ramesh, south Asia correspondent
Thursday 23 November 2006
http://www.guardian.co.uk/international/story/0,,1954695,00.html

Friday, May 26, 2006

Nepal: Hindutva forces rally against Nepal's reforms

Date: Friday 26 May 2006
Subj: Nepal: Hindutva forces rally against Nepal's reforms
To: World Evangelical Alliance Religious Liberty News & Analysis
From: WEA RLC Principal Researcher and Writer, Elizabeth Kendal.


Nepal's 1990 Constitution describes the country as a Hindu state. But on 18 May 2006 Nepal's new parliament declared that Nepal will no longer be a Hindu Kingdom but will now be a secular state. While jurists and lawyers raise questions regarding the legal and constitutional status of the proclamation, ethnic and religious minorities are rejoicing, believing it should bring an end to all manner of religious discrimination and persecution.

Asia News reports: "Religious and ethnic minorities in Nepal have voiced their satisfaction about a historic parliament resolution declaring the country to be a 'secular state'." (Link 1)

Robert Gurung, a member of the "Good Hope" Pentecostal Church, told Asia News that he regarded the resolution as "revolutionary and democratic". Gurung believes the move will "ensure justice among the different religious, cultural, ethnic and linguistic minorities in the country." Gurung continued: "With the advent of the 1990 Constitution, minorities had started breathing some freedom to profess and live their faith and culture. However, the fact the country was defined as a Hindu state by the Constitution imposed particular restrictions on religious minorities, including Christian ones."

Pasang Sherpa, secretary-general of the Confederation of Indigenous and Ethnic Groups of Nepal said, "With this resolution, parliament is moving towards justice, pluralism and harmony. In a democracy, minorities cannot be marginalized. Nepal is starting a new chapter now. We welcome the decision as minorities are exploited in a state that rules on the basis of a certain religion." (Links 1 & 2)

Sociologist Dr Krishna Bahadur Bhattachan, told Nepalnews, "All religious communities – except some Hindus who were misusing state fund in the name of Hinduism – have hailed the decision, as now onwards there will be equality among all religions." (Link 3)

According to Nepalnews, the book "Towards a Democratic Nepal" by scholar Mahendra Lawoti (published 2005), "argues that the source of racism and sexism in the (1990) constitution of Nepal is the declaration of the state as Hindu. Articles 11.2 and 11.3 state that the Constitution is against discrimination based on religion, yet, Article 4 explicitly declared Nepal as a Hindu state. 'The declaration of the state as Hindu provides sustenance and support to the discriminating traditions and values and contributes in the continuation of the social and legal discriminations,' Lawoti wrote."

Dr Bhattachan adds that since all major political forces in the country were in favour of secularism, it should also help bring an end to the Maoist insurgency. Nepalnews explains that the CPN (Maoist), comprising mostly dalit and ethnic minorities who suffer under high-caste Hindu repression, have always advocated for a secular state.

Dr Bhattachan however, notes there will be a need for firm implementation: "The declaration should be implemented properly and there should not be discrimination in the name of religion. If some people try to protest the decision, people will punish them."

And it does appear that the transition from Hindu State to secular democracy will not be smooth or peaceful. The new parliament may find that by opening the gates to liberty and equality it is also opening Pandora's Box. Only a broad-based strong commitment to the principles of secular democracy, supported by rule of law, will keep Nepal on track as pressure against the move is already mounting. After all, as Sushil Shashank, a scholar of tribal culture, noted to Asia News, the hegemony of the Hindu religion has weighed heavy on the psyche of the population for more than two decades. "A State religion means dominion of a culture, of a language and of some castes…" (Link 1)

While ethnic and religious minorities are rejoicing and hopeful, those who were the beneficiaries of Hindu dominance and hegemony may be less welcoming of change.

HINDU RHETORIC RISES
– IN NEPAL


Not long after Nepal's new House of Representatives (HoR) passed the resolution to declare Nepal a secular democracy, the Hindu rhetoric to start to rise – both in Nepal and in neighbouring India.

The Times of India reports: "Nepal parliament's proclamation declaring the world's only Hindu Kingdom as a secular state has evoked a mixed response with the majority Hindu groups saying the decision has hurt the community. 'The decision of the so-called Parliament has hurt the faith of the 900 million Hindu populace across the globe and brought about possibilities of a religious crusade in Nepal,' Shiv Sena Nepal President Arun Subedi said." Arjun Lamichhane of the Bishwo Hindu Youth Federation also expressed his hostility to the resolution. (Link 2)

Nepalnews reports: "In a bid to appease minorities, the seven party alliance is likely to end up offending the Hindu majority. … the proclamation of the HoR to declare Nepal a secular country is likely to ruffle many feathers over the long period of time." (Link 3)

Furious Hindu leaders are accusing the Seven Party Alliance of betraying the country and acting illegally. Nepalnews reports, "Bharat Keshar Simha, chairman of World Hindu Federation (WHF) [and close aide of King Gyanendra], said that the decision was illegal and a conspiracy against the country. 'If political parties are convinced that the state should be declared secular, they should have courage to go for a referendum and get people's mandate rather than making a proclamation in an illegal way,' he added.

"Simha further said that WHF would organize various protest programmes against the decision and would also take to the street to protest what he called the 'unconstitutional declaration' of the House of Representatives."

Chintamani Yogi, Principal of Hindu Vidyapeeth—Nepal (HVP-N) cautioned Nepalnews that the parliament's decision to declare Nepal as a secular state could provide the motivation for regressive forces to unite under the banner of Hinduism and politicised religion.

"Yogi further cautioned that Missionary activities could flare up in the days to come in the aftermath of Nepal being declared a secular state and age-old harmony among various religious groups within the country could be endangered." (Link 3)

Swami Dhruba – Kathmandu-based Hindu preacher told Nepalnews that "various Hindu groups were currently holding meetings and were in direct touch with Hindu religious leaders of India to chart out future strategies. 'We will not remain silent and [will] continue to expose the policy of appeasement,' he warned." (Link 3)

– IN INDIA

Disapproval of the resolution is also coming from the Sangh Parivar (body of Hindu nationalists) in India. Hindustan Times reported on 19 May that in India the BJP was reacting strongly against the resolution of Nepal's new HoR. "Thousands of activists, belonging to the BJP and its allies, took out a march in Sonauli, Thoothibari of Maharajganj district to express their anger at the decision of Parliament. National president of the World Hindu Federation (India Wing) and BJP MP Yogi Adityanath led the march.

"Adityanath directed the party activists to launch a movement against the decision of the Nepalese Parliament. The procession passed through various routes and raised slogans against the Nepalese Government. The Hindu Yuva Vahini, the Hindu Mahasabha and other organisations supported the march.

"Strongly condemning the decision of the Nepalese Parliament Adityanath said that it was a deep-rooted conspiracy of international force. Adityanath said that whenever Nepal would be secular state, the security of India would come under threat…" (Link 4)

Former BJP leader, Bharatiya Janshakti, expressed the same sentiments, claiming that the resolution to turn Nepal into a secular state would encourage Hindu fundamentalists to increase their stronghold there, creating security and stability concerns in Nepal and for India. (Link 5)

The RSS and VHP both have huge stakes in Nepal with affiliates such as the Hindu Swayamsewak Sangh and so are maintaining a stoic silence in order to placate Nepalese authorities and protect their interests. The RSS has however, asked the Hindus of Nepal to maintain eternal vigilance to protect their religious identity. RSS General Secretary Mohan Bhagwat said in the Sangh first comments on the proclamation, "The constitutional recognition of Nepal as a Hindu nation was symbolic of its ancient traditions and culture. This identity was so far safe under the Constitution. But now the people of Nepal will have to maintain eternal vigilance to safeguard it." (Link 6)

PROTESTORS HIT THE STREETS

On Monday 22 May some 5000 Hindus took to the streets in Nepal's southern town of Birgunj, about 150 km (90 miles) south of Kathmandu, to denounce the parliament's resolution to turn Nepal into a secular state. The rallies were organised by activists from the World Hindu Federation (WHF) and Shiv Sena Nepal. The protestors blocked the Tribhuvan highway on the Bara-Parsa industrial belt near the Indian border. Shouting "Jay Shree Ram!" (Lord Ram is great!), they burnt tyres, logs, and newspapers that supported the resolution. They forced shops to close and vehicles off the street.

Observers are concerned that protests could turn violent, especially if incited by Hindutva forces. In fact, in what has tones of a threat, the WHF has warned that the protests could lead to riots. Likewise, Chintamani Yogi, principal of Hindu Vidyapeeth, has warned that the harmonious co-existence of several religions in Nepal could be in danger. (Link 7)

Elizabeth Kendal

Links

1) Nepal is secular state: minorities happy
by Prakash Dubey. 22 May, 2006 NEPAL
http://www.asianews.it/view.php?l=en&art=6227

2) Hindus criticise Nepal's secular status. 20 May 2006
http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/articleshow/1539923.cms

3) 'Secular Nepal' finds itself in the eye of controversy
By Pratibedan Baidya. 24 May 2006
http://www.nepalnews.com/archive/2006/others/feature/may/news_feature07.php

4) BJP, allies protest Nepal decision
Hindustan Times. 19 May 2006. HT Correspondent, Gorakhpur.
http://peacejournalism.com/ReadArticle.asp?ArticleID=8846

5) Secular Nepal no good for India: Uma
http://www.chennaionline.com

6) Secular Nepal: RSS avoids direct criticism
NEW DELHI, 20 MAY 2006 (PTI)
http://www.outlookindia.com/pti_news.asp?id=386352

7) Hindu ultras shut down Nepal's industry hub. 24 May 2006
http://www.newkerala.com/news2.php?action=fullnews&id=64529
ALSO
Nepalis protest over secular moves. Reuters. 24 May 2006
http://www.alertnet.org/thenews/newsdesk/B315115.htm