Nepal Christians fight against grave injusticeBy Sudeshna Sarkar, IANS
Friday, January 28, 2011
KATHMANDU - When Nepali boxer Raju Budha Magar received a killer punch on the head during a tourney in central Nepal earlier this month and fell in the ring, it was the start of an unbelievable nightmare for the family of the 22-year-old.
Budha Magar died the next day without regaining consciousness and his family received another staggering blow when they began his last rites.
The body of the slain boxer, who was a Christian, was taken for burial to Panchkhal, a town in Kavre district adjoining Kathmandu. But the last rites could not be performed as villagers opposed the burial. Desperately searching for a last resting place, the harrowed family had to finally take the body to another district, Dhading, where it found a grave.
“This is not an isolated case,” says C.B. Gahatraj, general secretary of the committee formed by Nepal’s Christian community to advise parliament on the rights of religious minorities and include them in the new constitution.
“Every day Christians face the same problem. Even five years after Nepal became secular, the government has not yet allowed the community land for a graveyard.”
The issue reached a flashpoint this month as Nepal’s most famed Hindu temple began demolishing Christian graves in its vicinity.
The Pashupatinath temple, said to have been built in the 5th century and now declared a world-heritage site by Unesco, is skirted by an ancient forest, the Shleshmantak, whose origin is believed to go back to the time of the epic Ramayana.
The Pashupatinath Area Development Trust that manages the temple allows 10 Hindu sects, collectively called the Dashnamis, to bury their dead in the forest.
However, desperate Christian families also buried their dead furtively in the forest, unable to find any other alternative site.
Now the trust is seeking to develop the forest and has begun razing down the graves, triggering shocked protests from Christians.
“We are forced to bury our dead in the Shleshmantak forest because we have no other option,” said Sundar Thapa, president of the Christian advisory committee. “With the trust preventing the burials, it has become impossible for us to conduct our last rites.”
The committee cites the UN human rights declaration that says there shall be no discrimination on the basis of gender, caste and creed. UN human rights declaration that says there shall be no discrimination on the basis of gender, caste and creed. “The declaration guarantees the right to religious freedom,” says Thapa.
“Although Nepal is a member of the UN, yet we Nepali citizens have been denied this basic right. To be denied land for burials is not just the denial of fundamental rights but a mockery of democracy.”
Till 2006, Nepal was the only Hindu kingdom in the world where conversions were a punishable offence and Christians were regarded with mistrust.
Though a pro-democracy movement in 2006 overthrew King Gyanendra’s army-supported government and declared the Hindu nation secular, the state is yet to treat the religious minorities on a par with the major creeds.
While Muslims have a burial ground and the earlier government led by the Maoists promised to form a Muslim Commission, Christians continue to be ignored.
Not a single Christian was nominated to the 601-member parliament despite provisions that unrepresented communities should be nominated by the prime minister.
The Christian community, whose strength has been increasing since 2006, says it will launch protests from next month if talks with the major political parties scheduled for Sunday fail to get them a graveyard.
“If the talks fail, we have no other option but to take our dead to Singha Durbar (the seat of the government in Kathmandu) and lay them down there,” Gahatraj said.
(Sudeshna Sarkar can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)