Nepali Pastor Leaves Prison After Serving 2 Years for Killing a Cow
A Nepali pastor sentenced to twelve years in prison for slaughtering a cow has been released early after a court declared him not guilty on July 17. Reverand Chhedar Lhomi Bhote, 37, had served two years of his sentence.
Bhote was arrested in October 2012, after a Hindu mob burned down his home in northeastern Nepal, where he and his wife were ministering to Tibetans. The mob accused him of eating beef, which is taboo in Nepal, but not actually illegal for non-Hindus, and of killing a cow. Although the law is rarely enforced, intentionally slaughtering a cow, a sacred animal to Nepal’s majority Hindus, is punishable by up to 12 years in prison.
Hindu society is very sensitive to how other faiths regard their sacred animal. Some Hindu groups have recently alleged that Christians encourage new converts to show disrespect to Hindu symbols, including the cow. These reports are causing anger and accusations of forced conversion in Nepali society.
A Hindu protest group called Vedic Sanatan Hindu Rastha Nepal, recently brought cow slaughter into the spotlight by carrying out a month-long hunger strike. Hindu holy man Yuva Sant Shri Shrinevasacharya led the strike, declaring, “Hindus, Hindu gurus, and other organizations should unite to fight against the growing number of crimes against our identity and culture. We will no longer sit aside and watch as cows are slaughtered in this sacred land of our ancestors.”
Hindu groups are linking cow slaughter to faith conversion – two issues that many Hindus find unacceptable in the Hindu-majority country. In addition, missionaries and Christian NGOs are often accused of using promises of money and education to lure poor non-Christians into the faith.
Reports show that Christianity is among the fastest growing faiths in the country where more than 75 percent of the population is Hindu. According to Operation World, although Nepal’s Christian population is only 2.85 percent, the rapid growth of Christianity – contrasted to the declining numbers of Hindus- is a major concern for Hindu leaders.
The 2001 census showed the Christian population to be 180,000; by the 2011, 375,699 identified themselves as Christian, more than double from ten years prior.
The number of churches in Nepal has also increased substantially. In the Banke district alone, the number of churches has quadrupled from 10 to 40 since Nepal became a secular state in 2006 following the deposition of its king.
Kamal Thapa, the leader of the Hindu nationalist Rastriya Prajatantra Party Nepal (RPP-Nepal), has been vocal about the issue. He recently said that, “US dollars are being poured into the country to lure an innocent Hindu population to convert to Christianity.” According to Nepali law, an individual has the right to change their religion and practice the religion they wish; there is, however, a prohibition against attempting to convert people, and the line is often blurred.
Yuva Sant Shri Shrinevasacharya laments that Christians, funded by aid agencies, are “helping to destroy the legacy of Hinduism in Nepal,” adding that, “so far, our protest has been peaceful, but if cow killing and conversion continues, we will have to use other means.”
Accusations of Christian proselytism have intensified at a time when Nepali Hindus are also seeing their country become more secular, which they fear will “dilute” the Hindu population. They are also growing more confident in asserting their authority over Christians because of the success of Hindu nationalism in neighboring India, which saw a Hindu-led government elected in May. During a recent visit to Nepal, Narendra Modi, India’s newly elected prime minister, exerted pressure on Nepal’s Prime Minister Sushil Koirala, to heed the country’s Hindu culture.
Christian leaders claim that the state has not fully accepted its secular identity and continues to favor Hinduism. They also recount that Christians continue to face persecution in society. In December 2013, a church building and the homes of four Christian converts were set on fire. In April of this year, Christians and other religious minorities were asked to “reconsider their faith” ahead of a new plan requiring all Nepali citizens to register for an identity card.
Source: World Watch Monitor
Father, we pray for our Nepalese brothers as they experience increased opposition by the RPP-Nepal party and others who favor a Hindu identify in Nepal. We pray that the Hindus’ fear of Christians will be softened by Your Spirit, as they encounter true believers’ godly lives. We pray protection over the Christians as persecution increases, and for much wisdom about how to stand in the strength of Christ, while also showing compassion toward those who would oppose them. At the same time, we stand in awe that in the midst of much opposition, Your Church is growing in Nepal! In the name of Jesus, who in spite of opposition, is growing His Church across the globe, Amen.