Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Nepal: secular or Hindu?

Nepal running out of time
By Dhruba Adhikary, 4 March 2010

Writing from Kathmandu for Asia Times on-line, Dhruba Ahikary comments: "Nepal's transition from a Hindu monarchy to a secular republic is not going smoothly, and not just over the fast-approaching May 28 deadline for the nation's new constitution."

Apart from the issue of federalism, the question of whether Nepal should be a secular or a Hindu state is back in play, causing alarm amongst religious liberty observers.

The small royalist Rashtriya Prajatantra Party-Nepal (RPP-Nepal) is calling for a referendum on Nepal's status.

Adhikary continues (with some debatable analysis): "Hinduism, the third-largest religion after Christianity and Islam, is known for its tolerance towards other faiths. Nepal, with a sizeable Muslim population, does not possess the type of religious rivalries seen in India.

"This, however, is undergoing a subtle change. There are growing feelings that too much tolerance could impact on Nepal's Hindu way of life, especially if there is a lack of reciprocity from other faiths. The concern has grown since the proselytizing activities of Western groups that had entered Nepal in the garb of non-governmental organizations were exposed.

"The Hindu backlash against Nepal becoming a secular state has grown since 2006 when the monarchy first fell and the state was established, but the leaders of some prominent political parties believe the recent popular movements may also be a power play by right-wing elements. And they are also jittery about a possible revival of the monarchy. [. . .]

"Maoist leader Pushpa Kamal Dahal (popularly known as Prachanda) has now become one of two important figures who concede that the secularization of Nepal was a mistake. The other person is none other than the incumbent President Ram Baran Yadav. [. . .]

"If Nepal's secularization was a mistake, this could be rectified when Nepal receives its new constitution. There is no need for a simultaneous restoration of the monarchy, which ceased being the custodian of the nation's Hindus after the notorious palace massacre of 2001. Nepal could now learn to stand as a Hindu republic, not a kingdom."

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There is indeed a popular groundswell of support for Nepal restoring its status as a Hindu State, if not a Hindu monarchy.

Special ritual Hindu prayers and sacrifices have been undertaken in Kathmandu with the objective of the restoration of Nepal as a Hindu State. The organiser of the yagna (ritual prayers), Kali Baba, has already threatened that he will self immolate unto death if Nepal is not declared a Hindu state soon. Nepal’s deposed King Gyanendra has visited the yagna and expressed support for a declaration of Nepal as a Hindu State.
See: Nepal’s ex-King favors revival of Hindu State, hold talks with senior NC leader
9 March 2010, Telegraph Nepal

According to Nepalnew.com, over 200,000 devotees including many dignitaries have visited the yagna. "Many political leaders including those from the Unified CPN (Maoist), the party which does not believe in existence of god in principle and officially advocated for a secular nation, have also visited Kalidas Baba's Mahagya. Reports say, the Maoist leaders visited the Yagya at night to avoid media attention."

According to Telegraph Nepal: "Nepal’s deputy Prime Minister Sujata Koirala-Jost has said that the demand for Hindu State must be listened and be incorporated in the new constitution.

"'It would be unwise not to address the genuine demands of 85 per cent Nepali Hindus', she said adding and 'How can we only incorporate demands of Janajatis and ignore voice of the Hindus?'"

see also: Hindu state to be addressed : DPM (The Himalayan, 21 Feb)

And it looks like Pranchada has indeed undergone religious conversion for political gain.
see: Buffalo Worship pays in Nepal politics. Telegraph Nepal, 22 Feb 2010

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Christian Solidarity Worldwide has published an excellent report on the threat to religious liberty posed by anti-conversion measures likely to be incorporated into Nepal's new constitution.

Nepal: Religious freedom and the new constitution
1 March 2010

CSW notes: "The Constituent Assembly (CA) of Nepal, created by the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) and elected in April 2008, took the fundamental decision to abolish the monarchy and declare Nepal a secular republic. However, this decision, with significant implications for religious freedom, is yet to be enshrined in law, and can only be regarded as a statement of intent until it is reflected in a new constitution. As Nepal formalises the transition from Hindu monarchy to secular republic, in the promulgation of a new constitution due in May 2010, the right to freedom of religion and belief must be protected if the transition is to be a successful one. . .

"The current interim constitution fails to protect religious freedom in a manner consistent with the provisions of international law. There is no religious freedom at all for those whose own religion is not 'handed down to him or her from ancient times paying due regard to social and cultural traditions', either because their religion does not have the character of being handed down in that way, or because they have changed religion. The provision that 'no person shall be entitled to convert another person from one religion to another' is in violation of the freedom to manifest religion or belief under Article 18 of the ICCPR. The stipulation that 'no person shall act or behave in a manner which may infringe upon the religion of others' is ill-defined, and open to abuse."

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A Hindu nationalist backlash against the transition to secularism was inevitable. Indeed, I wrote a piece only a week after the May 2006 declaration of a secular state, entitled, "Nepal: Hindutva forces rally against Nepal's reforms" (26 May 2006) which noted: "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."

Hindu nationalism is essentially about Hindus seeking to preserve their caste privilege through the establishment of a Hindu State.