08/01/2012, 00.00
NEPAL

Nepal's religious leaders and political leaders to defend secular state

Kalpit Parajuli
Christians, Muslims and civil society group fear the growth of Hindu extremism in the country. They meet at an event organised by Freedom for All Nepal, an association that promotes inter-faith dialogue.

Kathmandu (AsiaNews) - Nepal's religious leaders and political leaders have joined forces to counter the country's political crisis and rising Hindu extremism, which are jeopardising the secular nature of the state established in 2007. They did so at a meeting organised a few days ago in the capital by the Freedom for All Nepal (FAN), an association that favours interfaith dialogue. Representatives from the Protestant and Muslim communities as well as members of the dissolved constituent assembly were present.

Political instability, economic crisis and the lack of a permanent constitution have rekindled support for the Hindu monarchy that was abolished in 2007 after 11 years of civil war and thousands of dead. However, at present, only the transitional constitution of 2007 guarantees the separation of state and religion.

In recent months, former King Gyanendra has been organising rallies across the country, offering to lead the country again. This has set off alarm bells among supporters of secular democracy who fear a coup by the former king and Hindu parties.

In recent weeks, students linked to rightwing parties have attacked dozens of foreign schools in Kathmandu and other areas, inducing the government to have these educational facilities change their name to local languages and cut tuition fees.

For the former speaker of the constituent assembly, Subas Chandra Nembang, the separation of state and religion "is a fact beyond discussion, a concept no one can erase for it has become rooted in much of the population, and this despite the dissolution of the (constituent) assembly."

According to CB Gahatraj, a Protestant and a former of the constituent assembly, the government must guarantee security and respect for religious freedom.

In the past few years, police have not adequately dealt with Hindu extremists responsible for a number of attacks against the Christian community, including the bombing of Kathmandu's Catholic cathedral in 2009.

Law enforcement authorities have also shown little interest in pursuing the investigation into the murders of Faizan Ahmad, a prominent Muslim leader, and Narayan Pokhrel, a moderate Hindu leader.

In the past, Nepal's monarchy did not allow any religion other than Hinduism. When King Tribhuvan came back to the throne in 1951, the Nepali state was transformed into a constitutional monarchy. Jesuit missionaries were allowed into the country to establish schools for the local aristocracy and rich bourgeois. However, freedom of worship came into effect only after 1991.

When Gyanendra Shah became king, restrictions on religion were reintroduced. In 2005, he proclaimed a state of emergency to fight Maoist insurgents, disbanding parliament and suppressing a number of fundamental rights guaranteed in the 1990 constitution, like freedom of expression and freedom of worship.

Those who participated in the aforementioned meeting agreed to take the message of secular values and opportunities to the country's 75 districts, a message that was agreed by both conservative-leaning Congress Party and representatives of the ruling Maoist government.

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