Friday, May 26, 2006

Nepal: Hindutva forces rally against Nepal's reforms

Date: Friday 26 May 2006
Subj: Nepal: Hindutva forces rally against Nepal's reforms
To: World Evangelical Alliance Religious Liberty News & Analysis
From: WEA RLC Principal Researcher and Writer, Elizabeth Kendal.


Nepal's 1990 Constitution describes the country as a Hindu state. But on 18 May 2006 Nepal's new parliament declared that Nepal will no longer be a Hindu Kingdom but will now be a secular state. While jurists and lawyers raise questions regarding the legal and constitutional status of the proclamation, ethnic and religious minorities are rejoicing, believing it should bring an end to all manner of religious discrimination and persecution.

Asia News reports: "Religious and ethnic minorities in Nepal have voiced their satisfaction about a historic parliament resolution declaring the country to be a 'secular state'." (Link 1)

Robert Gurung, a member of the "Good Hope" Pentecostal Church, told Asia News that he regarded the resolution as "revolutionary and democratic". Gurung believes the move will "ensure justice among the different religious, cultural, ethnic and linguistic minorities in the country." Gurung continued: "With the advent of the 1990 Constitution, minorities had started breathing some freedom to profess and live their faith and culture. However, the fact the country was defined as a Hindu state by the Constitution imposed particular restrictions on religious minorities, including Christian ones."

Pasang Sherpa, secretary-general of the Confederation of Indigenous and Ethnic Groups of Nepal said, "With this resolution, parliament is moving towards justice, pluralism and harmony. In a democracy, minorities cannot be marginalized. Nepal is starting a new chapter now. We welcome the decision as minorities are exploited in a state that rules on the basis of a certain religion." (Links 1 & 2)

Sociologist Dr Krishna Bahadur Bhattachan, told Nepalnews, "All religious communities – except some Hindus who were misusing state fund in the name of Hinduism – have hailed the decision, as now onwards there will be equality among all religions." (Link 3)

According to Nepalnews, the book "Towards a Democratic Nepal" by scholar Mahendra Lawoti (published 2005), "argues that the source of racism and sexism in the (1990) constitution of Nepal is the declaration of the state as Hindu. Articles 11.2 and 11.3 state that the Constitution is against discrimination based on religion, yet, Article 4 explicitly declared Nepal as a Hindu state. 'The declaration of the state as Hindu provides sustenance and support to the discriminating traditions and values and contributes in the continuation of the social and legal discriminations,' Lawoti wrote."

Dr Bhattachan adds that since all major political forces in the country were in favour of secularism, it should also help bring an end to the Maoist insurgency. Nepalnews explains that the CPN (Maoist), comprising mostly dalit and ethnic minorities who suffer under high-caste Hindu repression, have always advocated for a secular state.

Dr Bhattachan however, notes there will be a need for firm implementation: "The declaration should be implemented properly and there should not be discrimination in the name of religion. If some people try to protest the decision, people will punish them."

And it does appear that the transition from Hindu State to secular democracy will not be smooth or peaceful. The new parliament may find that by opening the gates to liberty and equality it is also opening Pandora's Box. Only a broad-based strong commitment to the principles of secular democracy, supported by rule of law, will keep Nepal on track as pressure against the move is already mounting. After all, as Sushil Shashank, a scholar of tribal culture, noted to Asia News, the hegemony of the Hindu religion has weighed heavy on the psyche of the population for more than two decades. "A State religion means dominion of a culture, of a language and of some castes…" (Link 1)

While ethnic and religious minorities are rejoicing and hopeful, those who were the beneficiaries of Hindu dominance and hegemony may be less welcoming of change.

HINDU RHETORIC RISES
– IN NEPAL


Not long after Nepal's new House of Representatives (HoR) passed the resolution to declare Nepal a secular democracy, the Hindu rhetoric to start to rise – both in Nepal and in neighbouring India.

The Times of India reports: "Nepal parliament's proclamation declaring the world's only Hindu Kingdom as a secular state has evoked a mixed response with the majority Hindu groups saying the decision has hurt the community. 'The decision of the so-called Parliament has hurt the faith of the 900 million Hindu populace across the globe and brought about possibilities of a religious crusade in Nepal,' Shiv Sena Nepal President Arun Subedi said." Arjun Lamichhane of the Bishwo Hindu Youth Federation also expressed his hostility to the resolution. (Link 2)

Nepalnews reports: "In a bid to appease minorities, the seven party alliance is likely to end up offending the Hindu majority. … the proclamation of the HoR to declare Nepal a secular country is likely to ruffle many feathers over the long period of time." (Link 3)

Furious Hindu leaders are accusing the Seven Party Alliance of betraying the country and acting illegally. Nepalnews reports, "Bharat Keshar Simha, chairman of World Hindu Federation (WHF) [and close aide of King Gyanendra], said that the decision was illegal and a conspiracy against the country. 'If political parties are convinced that the state should be declared secular, they should have courage to go for a referendum and get people's mandate rather than making a proclamation in an illegal way,' he added.

"Simha further said that WHF would organize various protest programmes against the decision and would also take to the street to protest what he called the 'unconstitutional declaration' of the House of Representatives."

Chintamani Yogi, Principal of Hindu Vidyapeeth—Nepal (HVP-N) cautioned Nepalnews that the parliament's decision to declare Nepal as a secular state could provide the motivation for regressive forces to unite under the banner of Hinduism and politicised religion.

"Yogi further cautioned that Missionary activities could flare up in the days to come in the aftermath of Nepal being declared a secular state and age-old harmony among various religious groups within the country could be endangered." (Link 3)

Swami Dhruba – Kathmandu-based Hindu preacher told Nepalnews that "various Hindu groups were currently holding meetings and were in direct touch with Hindu religious leaders of India to chart out future strategies. 'We will not remain silent and [will] continue to expose the policy of appeasement,' he warned." (Link 3)

– IN INDIA

Disapproval of the resolution is also coming from the Sangh Parivar (body of Hindu nationalists) in India. Hindustan Times reported on 19 May that in India the BJP was reacting strongly against the resolution of Nepal's new HoR. "Thousands of activists, belonging to the BJP and its allies, took out a march in Sonauli, Thoothibari of Maharajganj district to express their anger at the decision of Parliament. National president of the World Hindu Federation (India Wing) and BJP MP Yogi Adityanath led the march.

"Adityanath directed the party activists to launch a movement against the decision of the Nepalese Parliament. The procession passed through various routes and raised slogans against the Nepalese Government. The Hindu Yuva Vahini, the Hindu Mahasabha and other organisations supported the march.

"Strongly condemning the decision of the Nepalese Parliament Adityanath said that it was a deep-rooted conspiracy of international force. Adityanath said that whenever Nepal would be secular state, the security of India would come under threat…" (Link 4)

Former BJP leader, Bharatiya Janshakti, expressed the same sentiments, claiming that the resolution to turn Nepal into a secular state would encourage Hindu fundamentalists to increase their stronghold there, creating security and stability concerns in Nepal and for India. (Link 5)

The RSS and VHP both have huge stakes in Nepal with affiliates such as the Hindu Swayamsewak Sangh and so are maintaining a stoic silence in order to placate Nepalese authorities and protect their interests. The RSS has however, asked the Hindus of Nepal to maintain eternal vigilance to protect their religious identity. RSS General Secretary Mohan Bhagwat said in the Sangh first comments on the proclamation, "The constitutional recognition of Nepal as a Hindu nation was symbolic of its ancient traditions and culture. This identity was so far safe under the Constitution. But now the people of Nepal will have to maintain eternal vigilance to safeguard it." (Link 6)

PROTESTORS HIT THE STREETS

On Monday 22 May some 5000 Hindus took to the streets in Nepal's southern town of Birgunj, about 150 km (90 miles) south of Kathmandu, to denounce the parliament's resolution to turn Nepal into a secular state. The rallies were organised by activists from the World Hindu Federation (WHF) and Shiv Sena Nepal. The protestors blocked the Tribhuvan highway on the Bara-Parsa industrial belt near the Indian border. Shouting "Jay Shree Ram!" (Lord Ram is great!), they burnt tyres, logs, and newspapers that supported the resolution. They forced shops to close and vehicles off the street.

Observers are concerned that protests could turn violent, especially if incited by Hindutva forces. In fact, in what has tones of a threat, the WHF has warned that the protests could lead to riots. Likewise, Chintamani Yogi, principal of Hindu Vidyapeeth, has warned that the harmonious co-existence of several religions in Nepal could be in danger. (Link 7)

Elizabeth Kendal

Links

1) Nepal is secular state: minorities happy
by Prakash Dubey. 22 May, 2006 NEPAL
http://www.asianews.it/view.php?l=en&art=6227

2) Hindus criticise Nepal's secular status. 20 May 2006
http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/articleshow/1539923.cms

3) 'Secular Nepal' finds itself in the eye of controversy
By Pratibedan Baidya. 24 May 2006
http://www.nepalnews.com/archive/2006/others/feature/may/news_feature07.php

4) BJP, allies protest Nepal decision
Hindustan Times. 19 May 2006. HT Correspondent, Gorakhpur.
http://peacejournalism.com/ReadArticle.asp?ArticleID=8846

5) Secular Nepal no good for India: Uma
http://www.chennaionline.com

6) Secular Nepal: RSS avoids direct criticism
NEW DELHI, 20 MAY 2006 (PTI)
http://www.outlookindia.com/pti_news.asp?id=386352

7) Hindu ultras shut down Nepal's industry hub. 24 May 2006
http://www.newkerala.com/news2.php?action=fullnews&id=64529
ALSO
Nepalis protest over secular moves. Reuters. 24 May 2006
http://www.alertnet.org/thenews/newsdesk/B315115.htm