02/22/2010, 00.00
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No space for Christians and Muslims to bury their dead in Kathmandu

by Kalpit Parajuli
Rapid unplanned urbanisation has led the government to give Hindus land earmarked for Christian, Muslim and Baha’i minorities, groups that do not cremate their dead. This is causing tensions between Hindus and other religious groups.

Kathmandu (AsiaNews) – Christians, Muslims and Baha'i have no place to bury their dead. Rapid unplanned urbanisation has led the government to give Hindus land originally set aside for minority groups. Unlike Hindus, Christians and Muslims do not cremate their dead.

Fr George Karapurackal, who is parish priest at Kathmandu’s Assumption Cathedral, said, “This problem applies to all religions minorities. To solve it, we Catholics might have to start to cremate our dead, and place a memorial stone in our churches.

Nepal has a population of 23 million. Christians number around 500,000 (2.4 per cent), Catholics are around 7,000, concentrated mostly in the capital, home to some 300 Protestant and Catholic churches, each with its own cemetery.

“Finding a proper burial place may not be a problem for members of rich churches, who have bought land for their cemeteries on the fringes of Kathmandu, but it is a serious problem for the poor,” said Nindra Bhusal of National Council of Churches of Nepal.

Failure by the government to set aside land for this purpose is creating tensions between members of different faith communities and Hindus.

“The government should take the initiative to preserve the cultural rights of religious groups,” said Taj Mohammad Miya, coordinator of the United Muslim National Struggle Committee (UMNSC). “After we ran out of burial space, we were compelled to dig older graves and bury new corpses in them,” he added.

With 3.2 per cent of the population, Muslims are the fourth largest religious minority of Nepal after Buddhist (8.2 per cent).

Their one cemetery is located in the Swoyambhunath area, in the Kathmandu Valley. It was opened when the capital was small and the number of Muslims negligeable.

Baha’is, who follow a religion that was born in Iran, are a few thousands. In 1977, they bought land for a cemetery in Lalitpur, south of the capital. Recently, Hindus have taken over the area and have prevented them from using the cemetery.

“It’s really disturbing that we don’t have space to bury our people if anyone dies,” says Larry Robertson, Chairman of National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá’ís of Nepal.

The new residents who recently swamped the area “don’t allow us to use the cemetery,” he lamented.

He wants the government to give legal status to his community’s burial ground, to prevent tensions between Baha’is and Hindus.

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