After Christians, ancient Nepal tribe fights for burial rights

By Sudeshna Sarkar, IANS
Sunday, January 30, 2011

KATHMANDU - Close on the heels of Nepal’s Christian community warning the government that they would discard their dead in front of the prime minister’s office unless granted a burial site of their own, now an ancient Nepali tribe is also up in arms, demanding the same right.

The Kirats, an ancient tribe of mighty hunters who came from Tibet and ruled Nepal for over 1,000 years under 29 kings, have clashed with police in the capital after being prevented from conducting a burial in a forested land belonging to the holiest Hindu shrine in Nepal.

Police said nearly 200 members of the community began protests near the Pashupatinath temple Saturday in the latest incident in the saga of unrest involving the 17th century temple that is also a Unesco-declared World Heritage site.

The protests erupted after a Kirat family from eastern Nepal arrived at the forest adjoining the temple to bury a dead relative.

However, diggers making a pit in the Shleshmantak forest were prevented from burying the body of Oshin Rai from Udaypur after police arrived and intervened.

The intervention came after the Pashupati Area Development Trust, which administers the Hindu temple, decided to put an end to the practice by Christians and Hindus to bury their dead on land belonging to the temple.

The trust says only 10 Hindu sects, called the Dahnami collectively, are allowed to bury their dead on the temple land, as per Hindu customs.

It says non-Hindus are not allowed to bury their dead there and since last month, when a beautification drive started, the trust ordered the demolition of all non-Hindu graves in the forest.

Christians have already started a pressure campaign, asking the government to allot them land to build a cemetery.

Though Nepal, once the only Hindu kingdom in the world, became secular in 2006, religious minorities like Christians say they are still discriminated against.

Now Kirats say though they had asked the government nearly six months ago to allot them land for a graveyard of their own, they have not received any response.

They also say that the trust decided to stop burials by other faiths without giving them prior notice.

Since 2008, the shrine, regarded as one of the holiest Hindu shrines worldwide, has been dragged into various controversies.

First, the Maoist government tried to sack the Indian priests employed at the main shrine, an act that triggered widespread condemnation, but had to revoke the deed after five days.

Now the caretaker government of Nepal has been slapped with a lawsuit for trying to open the treasury of the temple - believed to have been padlocked for over 2,000 years - with Hindus saying it had no right to interfere in religious matters.

Filed under: Religion

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