Kathmandu (AsiaNews) - Fr John Prakash, an Indian priest assassinated in 2008 by Hindu extremists, will be recognised as national martyr, this according to Gita Rasailee, coordinator of the probe committee for martyrs and the disappeared. The latter's aim is to come up with a list of people worthy of this title. The Catholic priest is the first victim of religious hatred to be recognised in the predominantly Hindu nation.
"Martyrs are currently picked under political pressure," she told AsiaNews. Each group uses them to gain voter support. Instead, for her, before anyone is defined as a martyr, there should be agreement on the criteria used to grant them the title of national martyr.
"Our team is looking at various groups in society in order to separate those who died for political reasons from those who were killed on religious grounds," she said.
Fr John Prakashm falls into this latter category, she noted. His death and work on behalf of the poor are sufficient reasons to consider him a national martyr even though he was Indian.
More importantly, for Rasailee, few people in Nepal know the real meaning of martyr. After the war against the Hindu monarchy, it has acquired an ideological function to celebrate politically relevant figures.
Last Wednesday's controversial 'National Martyrs' Day' was a case in point. The celebration was marked by great tensions after Maoist Prime Minister Baburan Bhattarai was accused of using his power to protect party officials involved in civil war massacres.
Since they came to power in 2006, Maoists have pushed for recognition of their war dead, presenting a list of 835 fighters. This led opposition parties to counter with their own lists. The party representing the Madhesi minority for example submitted a list of 53 Madhesi killed during the civil war. Rightwing parties and other political groups presented 150 names.