Kathmandu (AsiaNews) - In Nepal, many young Hindus and Buddhists are choosing to become Catholic because of deep-seated inequality and discrimination. "I saw with my own eyes whole groups prohibited from entering Hindu temples just because they were from the lower castes," Diko Tamang, 12, told AsiaNew. "These people could not offer prayers; it is an unforgivable discrimination." From a Hindu family, Diko attends catechism at Kathmandu's Assumption Cathedral, along with a group of some 20 boys and girls.
"In my opinion," he said, "there should be no discrimination of any kind in a religion. In Christianity, there are none. In all castes and ethnic groups, each person is treated the same way. This is what I like and what inspired me to become Catholic. When I grow up I want to be able to spread the message of God's equality in our society."
Rita Maharjan, 18, also goes catechism with Diko. "I came here," she told AsiaNews, at the invitation of my sister, who is Catholic. For a long time, she had serious health problems, paralysed in the legs, unable to walk. We spent a lot of money to treat her. One day one of her friends encouraged her to go to church and be blessed by the priest. She did, and a few weeks later she was healed. When I tell this, a lot of people do not believe me, but it is true and I can testify to God's power and grace on my sister. I want to become Catholic, tell people about my experience and feel the grace of the Lord."
Nepal is home to about 150,000 Christians, including 8,000 Catholics. Before the fall of the monarchy (2006), Hinduism was the state religion, affecting the lives of every citizen. Following the proclamation of a secular state, religious freedom was guaranteed; yet minorities, especially Christians, are still subjected to harassment and threats from the majority community.
Hindus are often involved in discrimination, violence against women and marginalisation of the poor. In turn, they, and sometimes Buddhists, accuse Catholics and other Christians of converting people by force or by offering them money.
The kids attending catechism disagree. "When we came to the church no one asked us to convert. No one attempted to bribe us with something. We were interested and asked the priest to convert us, but he refused. He told us to ask our parents for permission and to study well what Christianity is."
From his first lessons, Diko remembers "people who studied the doctrine's teachings for over two years to become Catholic. To be Christian and ask for baptism we have to study."
Nepal's non-Christian population is steadily increasing. At the same time, the Catholic community is also steadily growing. This, experts say, depends on a long-term process that allows converts not to stray from their chosen course.