Nepal’s Transition to Democracy Worries the Christian Community
As Nepal struggles to respond to the recent massive earthquake and aftershocks that left thousands dead, the world has offered aid to a country that is still one of the poorest and most isolated in Asia, despite its popularity with mountaineers and Western backpackers.
The nation is still recovering from its 10-year Maoist insurgency and the final abolition of its monarchy in 2008. In addition, the Hindu-majority country has not yet established a new Constitution, a key part of the deal with the Maoists at the end of the civil war.
There’s “a lot more still to be done,” before Nepal’s political parties reach at a consensus on a constitution, a leader of one of the ruling parties said last week. KP Sharma Oli of the United Marxist Leninist party said it is unlikely to be ready by the most recent deadline of May 29th, and that the country might even have to wait another year, despite Prime Minister Sushil Koirala’s earlier comment that the constitution was just “a mouse click away.”
These further delays are disappointing to the country’s Christians and other minority religious groups who have been hopeful that the new constitution will guarantee them equal rights and religious freedoms. Dr. K.B. Rokaya, a former member of Nepal’s National Human Rights Commission identifies the following top three agenda items for Christians:
- A constitution as soon as possible so the country can begin to stabilize and move forward.
- Institutionalization of the historic gains, such as a republican form of government and a secular state.
- Full religious freedom including the right of individuals to choose one’s religion, share one’s faith with fellow citizens and not believe in any religion if they choose. In addition, they want the right to have a legal identity for their churches and organizations, and the right to bury their dead.
According to Dr. Mahendra Bhattarai of the United Mission to Nepal, churches cannot currently be registered, so individuals within congregations sometimes form a church committee and purchase land under their collective names. This system is full of complications in the event that disagreement occurs down the line.
Christians also struggle with the problem of burying their dead. “When a Christian dies, there’s no burial ground,” explains Sundar Thapa. “So we really have to hurry when a person dies, and also secretly… immediately within the hour… we have to take [the body] into the jungle where nobody can see, or in the middle of the night.” Sometimes, he explains, Hindus interrupt the burial and attack the buriers. On occasion, they have been forced to attempt the burial as many as three times.
Vishal Arora notes that the inequality in Nepal reflects prevalent social and political attitudes. Nepal was a Hindu kingdom for centuries, and some Hindus now feel uneasy about losing the supremacy they enjoyed for so long. The recent victory of the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party in neighboring India has further emboldened Nepal’s rightwing Hindu groups in resisting the idea of secularism and accusing Christians of unethical conversions.
Christians are praying for a favorable constitution to be ratified soon, but they are prepared, as K.B. Rokaya explains, “to live our faith under any circumstances. So hindrances, difficulties, obstacles do not hinder Christians from living their Christian faith and also propagating and sharing their faith.”
Source: World Watch Monitor
Father, we pray for the victims of the devastating earthquake in Nepal, for Your healing to rest upon the injured and Your solace to surround those who mourn the loss of loved ones. We pray for the city of Kathmandu, as they search for survivors, assess the damage and begin the task of rebuilding their city. We pray for those whose lives have been shattered by the trauma; that Your Holy Spirit will draw them into saving faith and turn their mourning into dancing. And we pray for the nation of Nepal, as they seek to establish a national constitution that it will result in freedom for the gospel of Christ to be proclaimed in power. Continue to strengthen the Christians there, Lord, as they seek to serve You faithfully despite the obstacles. We think even of their need of places to bury their dead; that You might provide for them. In the Name of Jesus, whose sufficiency provides for our needs, Amen.