Cross in the land of the khukuriIt is unfair to doubt the patriotism of Christians, as they love this country just like other Nepalis
With Christmas around the corner, Nepali Christians are anxiously waiting to see if the government will grant a public holiday. The Girija Prasad Koirala administration had declared Christmas a national holiday after Parliament declared Nepal a secular state in 2007. But to the fury of the country’s Christians, the KP Sharma Oli administration announced last year that the Christmas holiday would only apply to Christian civil servants.
This shows that successive governments have been trying to curtail the religious rights of minority groups to please fundamentalists and weaken the spirit of secularism. When the government can announce a public holiday during the recent state visit of Indian President Pranab Mukherjee to Nepal, why can’t it give a day off on Christmas so that they can celebrate the festival with their families? Being a Nepali Christian, it is painful when thinking about the government propagated prejudice against religious minorities.
Cry for transparency
The year 2016 truly has been a rollercoaster ride for Nepal’s Christian community. On June 9, eight persons providing psychological counselling to school children suffering from earthquake-related trauma in Dolakha were arrested on the charge of religious conversion. The police filed a case against them in Dolakha District Court accusing them of proselytising, which is an offence according to Article 26 (3) of the constitution. After a few days in prison where they were brutally attacked and humiliated by the police, they were freed on bail. The Dolakha District Court acquitted them of all charges only recently.
The court ruling has exposed the prejudice in some quarters against the Christian community. This is only one sample case of false charges of proselytising being laid against the Christian community, and there are scores of other such incidents recorded in 2016. Christian-run orphanages were raided by the police and faith-based organisations faced renewed government scrutiny as the Social Welfare Council issued a new rule barring them from operating. There is a need to bring churches and faith-based organisations under government scrutiny as some of them have been flouting rules and regulations. But instead of regulating them, the government has been barring them from working. This doesn’t solve the problem and only antagonises religious minorities.
Members of Nepal’s Christian community have been criticising their leaders who have amassed a lot of property by trading the Christian faith. There is a cry for transparency and accountability in the churches. The government could address this by establishing a religious commission and bringing a policy to register the flourishing number of churches in Nepal. The government cannot overlook the longstanding contribution of Nepali churches and faith-based organisations in the country’s educational, medical and social service sectors. Therefore, honouring their contribution to nation building, the government should stop harbouring prejudice against them. Instead, it should encourage them to work by formulating mutually agreed rules and regulations to govern them.
Another thing which routinely appears in the media is reports of forceful conversion. I was born into a Christian family, and nowhere is it said in the Bible that Jesus, founder of the Christian faith, encouraged his disciples to do forceful conversion or lure someone to become a Christian. Instead, Jesus says that if anybody wants to follow Him, they should carry their own cross, meaning they should be ready to suffer. When the Bible itself opposes forceful conversion, a true disciple would never lure someone to become a Christian. Trading faith for money or gifts should be punished according to the law. But in the name of stopping forceful conversion, the government cannot deny an individual’s universal right of voluntary conversion from one faith to another.
It is also wrong to say that European countries are spreading Christianity in Nepal. The spread of churches in Nepal, as far as I know, is the result of indigenous efforts. Rensje Teerink, ambassador and head of the European Union delegation to Nepal, has trashed the myth circulated by the media that Nepali Christians are being supported by the West, stating that it has never supported evangelist groups in Nepal. Another myth surrounding the Nepali Christian community is the exponential rise of the Christian population after Nepal became a secular state in 2007. I believe that this false charge has been propagated by those who want to instil fear in the minds of the people and take the country back into a Hindu state. The number of Christians started to swell after the restoration of multiparty democracy in 1990. The 2001 census recorded the number of Christians at 101,976 while the 2011 National Population and Housing Census conducted by the Central Bureau of Statistics recorded the Christian population at just 375,699.
Secularism cements nationalism
According to sociologists, the steady increase in the Christian population in the country is a result of the weekly gathering of Christians which gives them emotional and psychological support besides short and practical Christian rituals. Some believe that the involvement of Christians in social work, such as opening schools and hospitals, helped the spread of Christianity in Nepal. It is said that a large number of people became followers of Jesus expecting physical healing and deliverance. We cannot rule that out as there are testimonies of people claiming that they were healed by their faith in Jesus. A number of sociologists believe that a large section of Hindu Dalits renounced their faith and adopted the Christian religion just like BR Ambedkar and over five million of his Dalit followers converted to Buddhism to escape caste-based discrimination.
Even though the country has been declared a secular state, nothing substantial has been done to boost secular values. Christians are vilified on social media with derogatory terms. Secularism won’t weaken nationalism, but rather bring everybody closer together, further cementing the bond between communities. We cannot doubt people’s nationalism if they speak a language other than Nepali, practice a faith other than Hinduism or follow a different culture. I am a Christian and I love this country just like my fellow countrymen. It is disheartening to see that some people are still trying to promote the late king Mahendra’s outdated nationalism, which only reinforces the ided of one language, one religion and one culture, thereby polarising society.
Kainee is a social activist and freelance writer