10/28/2008, 00.00
NEPAL
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Minorities accuse Nepalese government of favoring Hinduism

by Kalpit Parajuli
With the beginning of the feast of Tihar, ethnic minorities in the country are raising their voices against the Maoist government of Prachanda. They are criticizing the favorable treatment shown toward Hindus, accusing: "In Nepal, secularism is only a declaration of intent."

Kathmandu (AsiaNews) - There is a dispute in Nepal between the ethnic minorities and the government. Just after the beginning of celebrations for the Tihar - the second most important feast in the Hindu tradition (known in India as the Diwali) - the government headed by Maoist leader Prachanda is the target of biting criticism. In April of 2006, the country decided to move toward secularism, abrogating the constitutional declaration that since 1990 had defined it as a "Hindu kingdom." Today, the calendar of Nepal guarantees three days of vacation during celebrations for Tihar. For the ethnic minorities, this is a betrayal of secularization, and an opportunity to call for greater attention for themselves, and fewer privileges for the Hindus.

Om Gurung, president of the federation of the Janajatis, the indigenous people of the country, states that "Nepalese secularism is nothing but lip service. We have not yet tasted what is secularism." "The government," says Gurung, "should also provide us more holidays, otherwise we will oppose this kind of prejudice." Similar criticisms are being expressed by Krishana Bahadur Bhattachan, a sociologist and a member of the Nepal Federation of Indigenous Nationalities: "When our children are compelled to celebrate Hindu festival because the government does not provide holidays during our festival, then how long do our festivals and culture exist? The Maoist government was expected to work in favor of minority groups, as the party had given many assurances. Now our hope is almost gone.”

In reality, vacation days have been included on the national calendar for the feasts of some of the many ethnic and religious minorities in the country. This has been done in the case of Christmas for the Christians, and of the Eid for the Muslims, the Chhat, for the inhabitants of the region of Terai, and the Loshar, for the Gurung of central Nepal. In all, there are seven new dates added to the ones already scheduled for Hindu festivities. But for the ethnic groups, this is too little compared with what is given to the Hindu faithful. In addition to the three days of vacation during the Tihar, known also as the feast of lights (in the photo, a moment in the celebrations), the government is granting them many others during the year. Especially glaring are the seven days given for the celebration of Dashain; for this occasion, the government also gives state employees a bonus equal to a month's salary. The ethnic minorities consider this discriminatory, and are demanding more secularism as promised by Prachanda after his rise to power in April of this year.

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