Minority reportGoverment should respect sentiments of minority groups in deciding national holidays
As if tormenting the Madhesis and Janajatis did not satisfy it enough, the Oli government seems to have decided to antagonise the Christians as well. From now on, the Ministry of Home Affairs will regard December 25 as “leave to only Christian civil servants.”
On May 19, 2006, the restored parliament (previously dissolved by King Gyanendra) declared Nepal a secular state. Nepal became a republic on December 28, 2007. The following day, the government led by Girija Prasad Koirala declared Christmas a national holiday. The announcement came too late that year because Christmas had already passed. But the following year was historic for the Nepali church.
School on Christmas day
In 2008, for the first time, Christian workers did not have to ask for leave of absence to celebrate Christmas. December 25 had become a national holiday for all Nepalis. Christian students did not go to schools or write exams that day like they did in previous years; they could join their parents for celebrations. The then president, Ram Baran Yadav, participated in the Christmas gathering at the Academy Hall in Kamaladi. His presence gave pride to the Christian community.
All that has changed now. Although the government will give leave to Christian civil servants, their children will have to go to school on December 25. Some schools may even conduct exams on that day so that Christian children will not sense the joy of the occasion.
Besides, parents who know that their children are writing exams can hardly celebrate Christmas.
Communist parties’ betrayal
During the 2008 Constituent Assembly election, most Christians voted for the Maoists because they expected the battle-hardened comrades to do something positive for the country. The Maoists turned out to the largest party, and Chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal even led the country as prime minister for nine months. When Dahal resigned because the President thwarted his plan to take over the Nepal Army, this party too lost its shine. During the 2013 Constituent Assembly election, the UCPN (Maoist) stood third. Most Christians voted for other parties.
According to the 2011 census, 1.4 percent of the country’s total population of 26,494,504 are Christians. This makes the official number of Christians 3,70,923. But most believe that there are more than 10,00,000 Christians. Even if half of them can vote, any political party can benefit from 500,000 assured votes.
Christians remember with gratitude that the late Girija Prasad Koirala’s government declared Christmas a national holiday. Now, a coalition of the CPN-UML, UCPN (Maoist), RPP (Nepal), and some smaller parties rule the country. Christians will never vote for RPP (Nepal) because its chairman Kamal Thapa always pours out venom against the Nepali church in and out of Parliament. The UML and UCPN (Maoist) have also run out of favour as Prime Minister Oli belongs to the former and Home Minister Shakti Basnet to the latter.
Hardly any Christian will vote for these two parties in the next election. Most likely, all Christian votes will go to the late Girija Prasad Koirala’s party, the Nepali Congress. A Nepali Congress government could reinstate Christmas as a national holiday.
Why should the government deny Nepali Christians their basic human right to one holiday that celebrates their Saviour’s birth? Other religious groups’ holidays, even extending to half a week, remain intact. The government has decided to provoke Christians probably because they do not burn tires, call ‘bandhs’, or advocate violence. However, Christians can protest peacefully and internationalise the issue. These actions can hurt the government even more. While the 2015 Constitution of Nepal comes under criticism internationally because it discriminates against minorities, the issue of the ‘stolen’ Christmas will add to the government’s embarrassment.
On April 2, the Federation of National Christians Nepal (FNCN) issued a statement: “The government’s decision, which ridicules basic norms of democracy and secularity and hurts the sentiments of minority religious groups, has drawn our serious attention.” The statement further said, “The government is trying to curtail the religious rights and freedom of minority religious groups. The twisted definition of secularism provided in the new constitution is also a testimony to this. The decision to limit Christmas holiday only to civil servants has dealt a serious blow to Nepali Christians”. The FNCN has appealed to the Nepali church at home and abroad to oppose the government’s move. It has asked the government to reinstate Christmas as a national holiday as soon as possible or face stern protest.
In 1985, the former President of the USA, Jimmy Carter, met the late king Birendra to appeal on behalf of Nepali Christians in jail. The Nepali press did its best to twist what Carter had said but the Indian papers like the Statesman told the truth and caused a great deal of embarrassment to the Panchayat government. In April 1990, British MP David Atkinson came in person to ask the then Prime Minister Krishna Prasad Bhattarai to release 60 Nepali Christians from jail. KP Oli’s government should restore Christmas to its national holiday status before the issue causes the country to gain further international notoriety.
Khatry is the executive director of Association for Theological Education, Nepal