04/01/2011, 00.00
NEPAL

Kathmandu: Christians on hunger strike for cemetery

Kalpit Parajuli
The rotating fast began on 23 March in front of Ratna Park, in the capital’s downtown area. Christian leaders will continue until the government does not grant Christians land for cemetery. To avoid a clash with Hindus, Christians have agreed to give up the right to bury their dead near Pashupatinath temple.
Kathmandu (AsiaNews) – Nepali Christian leaders have been on a rotating fast for the past eight days to get the government to agree to a burial place for Christians. The protest began on 23 March in front of Ratna Park in the heart of Kathmandu. It followed a large demonstration on 20 March by thousands of Christians who marched with empty coffins in front of government offices. Despite promises, the authorities have not heeded Christian demands; instead, they have urged them to buy land with their own money.

In recent years, Kathmandu has seen a great deal of real estate speculation. This has limited the amount of land available to Christians and other minorities for cemeteries, forcing them to bury their dead on top of one another in the same tomb.

To solve the problem, the authorities in 2009 granted Christians the Shleshmantak forest near the Hindu temple of Pashupatinath.

The decision sparked protests by Hindus across the country, forcing the local government to ban burials in the forest.

More recently, the Supreme Court lifted the ban, but police and temple authorities continue to prevent burials in the area.

Sunder Thapa, who organised the protest and is in charge of the Christian Advisory Committee for the New Constitution, said that the hunger strike would continue if the government continues to ignore Christian requests.

“Why does the government treat us as non-citizens, and deny us the right to bury our dead,” he asked.

The activist explains that Christians only want a place where they can commemorate their dead in a dignified manner.

“We are not interested in the Pashupatinath temple,” he said. “We are willing to give up the land if the Hindu community disagrees. However, the government should provide us burial grounds across the country.”

In Nepal, more than 70 per cent of the population is Hindu. Traditionally, Hindus are cremated, not buried. Christians represent 3 per cent of the population and together with other minorities have to buy land with the money of the faithful to set up their own cemeteries.

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