05/31/2012, 00.00
NEPAL
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Nepali Christians hope rights promised by government are not mere propaganda

by Kalpit Parajuli
Nepal's Maoist government signs a six-point deal with the Christian minority. The authorities agree to defend the rights of Catholics and Protestants and ensure their representation in parliament. With the failure of the constituent assembly, the country could implode economically and socially.

Kathmandu (AsiaNews) - The Nepali government will guarantee the rights of the country's Christian community as well as their representation in the institutions of the state. This pledge is contained in a six-point agreement signed by the Nepal Christian Federation and Nepali authorities. However, Catholic and Protestant leaders have doubts about its implementation. For some, it is but a ploy by political parties to win minority votes in case of an election to a new constituent assembly. The one elected in 2008 was dissolved on Monday when it failed to ratify the new constitution.

The first point of agreement paper states, "The government will take initiatives to ensure the rights and development of the Christian community." The second point says that the government will soon formulate policy on public holidays without discrimination for Christians. At present, they can celebrate Christmas, which is already a public holiday, but they also want to have other celebrations recognised so that they are not discriminates in the workplace if they do not work on that day.

Under the third point states, the government promises to protect Christian properties, including churches and other related assets. According to the fourth point, the government pledges to ensure proportional representation for the Christian community in all of its institutions, including parliament.

The agreement on its fifth point entails the establishment of an Action Group to implement the agreement reached by the parties. The last point of agreement ensures Christian rights are protected under the new Constitution.

Mr Chirendra Satyal, a representative of the Nepal Catholic Church, told AsiaNews, "People are fed up with politicians and changing governments. Most Christians are unsure whether the government will implement this agreement fairly nor not."

For Chari Bahadur Gahatraj, secretary of the Federation representing Protestant Churches in Nepal, "We were historically marginalised in the Hindu dominated country. Although the country is secular now, we are still pushed to the sideline. The government must implement this agreement." If not, "We will take some serious measures if the government fails to meet our demands."

Nepal is home to about 150,000 Christians, including 8,000 Catholics. With the collapse of the Hindu monarchy in 2006 and the establishment of a secular state, Christians were able to enjoy greater freedom of worship.

Although discrimination by Hindus is commonplace, conversions are increasing. According to figures from Kathmandu's Catholic cathedral, some 200 non-Catholics attend Mass every Sunday.

Even though the provisional constitution grants each Nepali citizen the right to profess any creed, majority Hindus have tried to prevent conversions. Hinduism still exerts a great deal of influence in the country and among the authorities. In fact, a year ago, parliament began examining changes to the penal code that would ban changing religion and handing out religious literature, with sentences of up to five years in jail.

With the failure of Maoist-led constituent assembly to approve the new constitution, Nepal now finds itself on the cusp of economic, political and institutional chaos. The country could implode with clashes between ethnic groups. Religious minorities could end up drawn into the confrontation.

So far, the Supreme Court has resisted attempts by the Maoist government to organise new elections in November. Opposition parties are pushing instead for the resignation of Prime Minister Baburan Bhattharai. If he quits, he would be the fourth premier to give up since 2009.

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