04/04/2016, 15.05
NEPAL
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Nepal cancels Christmas as a public holiday; Christians retort that Hindus have 83

by Christopher Sharma

Nepal’s Home Affairs Minister justifies the decision by the need to reduce the number of religious feast days. Christians see the influence of "anti-Christian tendencies”. Christmas was declared a public holiday eight years ago, when Nepal became a secular state. Christian leaders also slam Article 156, which bans conversions.

Kathmandu (AsiaNews) – The Government of Nepal has decided to remove Christmas from the calendar of national celebrations, sparking protests from Christians who want its immediate reinstatement.

Speaking to AsiaNews, Home Affairs Shakti Basnet said, “We are forced to take such a decision not to hurt Christians but to control the rising number of public holidays”. At the same time, “we are ready to provide leave for Christians working for the government.”

For Rev CB Gahatraj, secretary general of the National Federation of Christians, "Christians do not just work for the government. If Christmas is not a national holiday, the workers of the private sector will not be able to celebrate it. The Government recognises 83 festivities for Hindus and other communities, but none for Christians."

Christmas was recognised as a national holiday eight years ago, when Nepal became a secular state. Since then, the feast day of the birth of Jesus has attracted members of other religious communities. This year the celebration took on a special significance, bringing hope to the people afflicted by India’s embargo.

Rev Gahatraj is concerned that Nepali authorities have been "influenced by anti-Christian tendencies. The government is trying to ignore us and suppress our rights. "

Yesterday, a group of Christian leaders met to challenge the decision and drafted a petition to deliver to Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli and to the Home Affairs minister. They are not alone. The Inter-religious Council-Nepal, and other interfaith groups and activist organisations back the Christian community.

Rev Gahatraj warned, “We are ready to sacrifice ourselves for our faith and the protection of freedom of worship. We strongly demand the restoration of the festivity and that the recent decision be dropped within a week. If the government fails to meet our request, we will protest across the country."

Many Christian leaders have also called for an end to the oppression of Nepal’s minorities, urging the authorities to uphold past agreements reached with Christians over their burial sites.

Christian leaders also criticised the provision under article 156 in the new Civil Code that bans conversion or related activities.

“Article 156 deliberately targets Christian priests,” said Rev Gahatraj, “by stating that the government may imprison Christian priests who perform conversions.”

According to the 2011 census, Catholics and Protestants represent about 1.5 per cent of the population. In 2006, there were only 0.5%.

In six years, Catholics went from 4,000 to 10,000. They play an important role in the economy, as well as education, running about 100 schools (20 of which are Catholic).

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