Fundamentalists set fire to a church just before Christmas
by Cristopher Sharma
The attack took place in Dhading district, a few kilometres from Kathmandu, on 23 December. The homes of four converts to Christianity were also set on fire. Radical Hindu groups are thought to be behind the attack, but Nepali officials downplay the incident.

Kathmandu (AsiaNews) - A group of nine people, still unknown to the authorities, set fire to the Protestant church in the village of Kichet, in Dhading District, on 23 December, a few kilometres from Kathmandu, the capital city of Nepal. Soon after, the homes of four local residents who had converted to Christianity were also torched.

Members of the congregation, who were away for Christmas holiday, reported the incident after they went to Sunday Mass yesterday and found the church had been burnt down.

"We were very surprised to see our church destroyed. Then, we realised what had happened," said Rima Tamang, a local Christian woman. "Some residents said they had tried to stop the attackers, but were beaten. The government must now stop those responsible and punish them."

The torched houses belonged to Ganga Lama Tamang, Lama Bahadur Tamang, Lama Bokta and Bikram Lama, all converts to Christianity.

Some residents believe Hindu fundamentalists set the fire as a warning to those thinking of converting.

"The authorities are reluctant to meet our requests and are ignoring cases when the victims are Christian. Things like this should not happen in a secular nation," said Rev C.B. Gahatraj, a Protestant clergyman, who urged the government to act.

Nepali government spokesman and Information Minister Madhav Poudel downplayed that the incident, dismissing claims that it was caused by an organised group.

Speaking about the incident, he said, "Our investigation is underway and soon we will soon release more information about the incident. We have not given all the information right away because it would interfere with the investigation. We are trying to figure out if the culprits were in contact with organised groups."

After the monarchy was abolished in 2008, the government made Christmas a national holiday in 2011 to revive tourism.

Christians can now exhibit images and sacred ornaments in stores and outside churches and homes.

At present, there are some 10,000 Catholics in the country, 4,000 more than in 2006, the year when the state became secular. Other Christians number about 100,000.