Nepal PM steps in to defuse religious row over burialsBy Sudeshna Sarkar, IANS
Tuesday, February 1, 2011
KATHMANDU - The ugly religious row that erupted near one of the holiest Hindu shrines in the world showed signs of calming down Tuesday after Nepal’s caretaker Prime Minister Madhav Kumar Nepal intervened, promising status quo to a minority community.
The Kirats of Nepal, an ancient hunting tribe that migrated to Nepal from Tibet and ruled the Himalayan state for over 1,000 years, were persuaded by the premier to withdraw their street protests on the assurance that they would be allowed to bury their dead in the forest land owned by the revered Pashupatinath temple till an alternative burial ground was found for them.
Kirats, whose population is estimated to be above one million, are animists who bury their dead. However, with the government failing to allot them a separate burial site of their own, the community has been burying its dead in the Shleshmantak forest skirting the Pashupatinath temple.
“We have a written agreement signed with the Girija Prasad Koirala government almost 13 years ago that says Kirats will be allowed to bury their dead till the government allotted them a graveyard site,” said Ang Kaji Sherpa, general secretary of the National Federation of Indigenous Nationalities that is supporting the Kirat protests that started in the capital last week.
“The agreement also said the government will allot a burial site within six months. However, we are still waiting,” he added.
The protests, which disrupted traffic near the Pashupatinath temple since Saturday and saw demonstrators clash with riot police, began after the Pashupati Area Development Trust, that runs the 17th century temple, began a new crackdown on non-Hindu burials in the forest, saying it hurt the sentiment of millions of Hindus worldwide.
The trust also said it would demolish the graves of non-Hindus, allowing only 10 Hindu groups, collectively known as the Dashnamis, to continue their burials in the forest.
“It is rank discrimination against indigenous communities at a time Nepal is writing a new constitution to make society inclusive,” Sherpa said.
“Pashupatinath, also worshipped as Kirateshwar, the lord of Kirats, is the deity of the Kirat community as well. To enforce such a discriminatory ban, and that too without informing the community, smacks of a conspiracy to destroy the harmony between Nepal’s different communities,” he added.
Sherpa said the prime minister professed ignorance of the earlier agreement as well as the new crackdown by the temple trust. Nepal also agreed to step up talks with the community to identify a burial site.
Till then, the prime minister has assured Kirats that the burials will continue in the forest.
The caretaker premier’s assurance is certain to be put to test Tuesday when Kirats seek to resume a burial that was interrupted Sunday.
The body of Jasram Rai, a 40-year-old who died of blood cancer Saturday, has been lying in the capital without being administered the last rites after his relatives were prevented by armed police from conducting his burial in the controversial forest land Sunday.
Sherpa said Kirats will seek to conclude the burial Tuesday.
The Kirat protests are being watched closely by Nepal’s Christian community, who too face a similar plight.
Though Nepal, once the only Hindu kingdom in the world, became officially secular in 2006, the state is yet to end discrimination against the religious minorities that continue in its hidden form.
(Sudeshna Sarkar can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)