Kathmandu (AsiaNews) - Nepal's Christians are growing. In ten years, they went from 0.4 per cent to 1.4 per cent in the country of 26 million, this according to the latest census released by the Maoist-controlled government. The findings are the first since Nepal became a secular state in 2007. The latest estimates were from last year. Surprisingly, Hindus grew from 80 to 81 per cent. Muslims remained the same at 4.4 per cent. Buddhists declined instead from 10.7 per cent to 9 per cent.
Nepali Prime Minister Baburam Bhattarai unveiled the study. In his address, he stated that no religion should use the results to ask for privileges. "The country is secular and people from all minority religions will enjoy equal status," he explained. "The government's programme will focus on women and minorities because they were deprived in the past."
Various experts and religious leaders criticised the data's accuracy however, because of imprecise information, especially in relation to religion.
"We believe our population is more than the report claims," Protestant leader CB Gahatraj said. "The problem is that during the census period, many newly converted Christians were afraid to tell their religion, and so were registered as Hindu." What is more, "when data collectors didn't meet the people because they were absent, they simply put them down as Hindu."
Central Bureau of Statistics (CBS) Director General Uttam Narayan Malla disagrees, saying that data collection was all done by the book and that there was no need to doubt its accuracy.
In addition to religion, the census also looked at other important facts. Literacy grew by 10 per cent over 2001. The highest literacy rate is in Kathmandu with 86.3 per cent. The lowest one is in the rural district of Rautahat (Terai) at only 41.7 per cent.
The census also shows that the number of Nepali migrants is up. In ten years, their numbers more than doubled, from 762,000 to more than 1.9 million.
The overall population rose by 14.4 per cent whilst 25 new ethnic groups were recognised.