10/22/2015, 00.00
NEPAL
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India’s trade embargo, a damper on Nepal’s Hindu festival of Dashain

by Christopher Sharma
The fifteen-day-long event is Nepal’s foremost celebration. However, temple visitors are down to a third this year as ordinary Nepalis, on the eve of winter, cope with all sorts of shortages – food, clothing, fuel and electricity. “This is an unforgivable sin by Narendra Modi”, said one Nepali. “If the Hindu gods are listening, his government will soon collapse."

Kathmandu (AsiaNews) – The disastrous situation caused by last April’s earthquake and India’s unofficial blockade have crippled Nepal. This has had a devastating impact on the country’s main Hindu festivity, Dashain, which this year is celebrated between 12 to 26 October.

In normal times, the country’s Hindu temples are crowded with worshippers bearing gifts to the gods. This year, attendance is down by two thirds.

Because of fuel shortages caused by an Indian blockade at the border, many people are unable to travel. What is more, many Hindu temples collapsed during the quake, and only a few have been rebuilt.

Today, the 10th day of Dashain (aka Bijayā Daśamī), the elderly apply Tika, a mixture of red powder, yoghurt, and grains of rice, to the forehead of young people as a blessing and an auspicious wish for a prosperous future.

However, as winter approaches, thousands of families still live in temporary shelters, without enough food or clothing.

"Dashain is a joyful celebration of the victory of truth over evil,” a man in Sindhupalchowk District. “However, for us there is no joy or happiness. Our life is hellish. The government is nowhere to be see. There is a lot of corruption in the distribution of aid. Dashain is losing significance in our lives."

For Arjun, a priest assistant at the Manakamana Temple, which was repaired after the earthquake, "People in previous years had to wait a whole day to go into the temple and pay homage to the Goddess of Will. This year, we are waiting to offer Tika. I guess around 20 per cent of people are coming compared to last year.”

In view of the situation, "People will do anything to make money,” said Shankar Gubaju, a Bhandrakali Temple priest.

“Spirituality is in short supply,” he noted, “especially among the younger generation. The number of visitors has dropped by two thirds. There may be many reasons for this, but life in Kathmandu is paralysed by the lack of fuel.”

Indeed, “People have no cooking gas or kerosene or electricity,” he added. “Can you imagine what it means to live like this? In this situation, how can people come to the temple to worship?"

As things get desperate, violence is breaking out. And anti-Indian sentiment is on the rise.

A few days ago, some Indians trying to enter Nepal for Dashain were beaten and robbed at the border, under the indifferent eyes of the Indian Police.

Indian Prime Minister Modi is a prime target of the growing resentment. "One Hindu forces millions of Hindus in Nepal to suffer,” said Ratan Shrestha, a Bhadrakali Temple devotee. “This is an unforgivable sin by Narendra Modi. If the Hindu gods are listening, his government will soon collapse."

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