03/21/2013, 00.00
NEPAL

Govt sets up special commission for Christian cemeteries

Kalpit Parajuli
Nepal's interim government under Khil Raj Regmi is behind the commission. It will select burial locations before 15 July, ending decades of dispute between Hindus and Christians. The lack of space has forced minorities to bury their dead one on top of the other, up to ten per tomb.

Kathmandu (AsiaNews) - Nepal's new government has set up a special commission to establish a cemetery for the country's Christian and Kirati minorities. This comes after the new cabinet of Prime Minister Khil Raj Regmi, the current Chief Justice, was sworn in to replace the government of Maoist leader Baburan Bhattarai

For decades, Christians and tribal Kiratis have been embroiled in controversy over burial grounds. As majority Hindus cremate their dead, they fail to understand the needs of those who bury their dead and oppose their demands.

Until recently, Christians and Kirati had to buy land with their own money to bury their dead. However, their tombs were frequently desecrated and burial plots seized. In many places, land is so scarce that a single tomb might contain up to ten bodies.

Now a 16-member commission led by Binod Pahadi, a former member of the constituent assembly, will look into the matter. C.B. Gahatraj, general secretary of Federation of National Christian Nepal (FNCN), is one of its members.

Over the next four months, the commission will scout for possible sites in each of the country's 75 districts and have them identified by 15 July.

"We are more hopeful this time. In the past, former Maoist and Communist administrations tried to use minorities for political purposes," Gahatraj said. "The new government is made up of bureaucrats who do not have any political party interests."

Space is especially scarce in Kathmandu because of speculation. The amount of accessible land is at a premium. Areas reserved for Christians and other minorities have consequently shrunk.

In 2009, Christians were granted access to a forest near Shleshmantak, not far from the Hindu temple of Pashupatinath as a way around the problem. However, this sparked Hindu protests across the country. In the end, the authorities were forced to backtrack and ban its use for burials.

A ruling by Nepal's Supreme Court lifted the ban in 2011, but police and temple authorities still refuse to allow Christians to bury their dead in the forest, occasionally resorting to violence to do so.

Since February 2011, Christians, Muslims and Kiratis have staged regular protests against the repressive attitude of local authorities. The latter appear less interested in solving the problem than in putting it off. None of the agreements they have signed over the years has ever been implemented.

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