Hundreds of Christians have held their first public vigil in the Nepalese capital to pressure the government into implementing a new, secular constitution within a stipulated deadline - writes Sudeshna Sarkar.
Their vigil comes during a period of growing anxiety that the country's political parties may bungle their task on the basic law of the country and that Nepal could become a Hindu State again.
"This is our vigil to ensure that the new constitution that is being written by the people themselves for the first time, protects secularism," said Pastor Ishwor Chandra Kafle, a member of the Christian Recommendation Central Committee, which called the mass meeting on 20 April.
Though the country's parliament declared Nepal secular in 2006, Christians say they are still oppressed in what was once the only Hindu kingdom in the world.
"We have not even asked the State for basic rights like food, clothing and shelter," said C. B. Gahatraj, general secretary of the committee. "We have simply asked for land to be able to bury our dead. But we can't get even that."
The Unified Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist), Nepal's former guerrilla group, was the only major party to support the vigil while the two key ruling parties stayed away, raising doubts among some protesters about their commitment to secularism.
The Maoist chief, Pushpa Kamal Dahal Prachanda, whose party had fought a 10-year war to abolish Hinduism as the State religion in Nepal, said that though his nation was a land of many ethnic communities, languages and religions, they were repressed for centuries by the dominant Hindu community which imposed its religion and language on all.
Former prime minister Prachanda's short-lived government, set up after the abolition in 2008 of the Hindu monarchy, had promised a commission to address problems faced by Muslims, and said that Christians and other oppressed minorities should also get special measures to protect their rights.
Nepal's nearly 700,000 Christians, ignored by the government in all State appointments, are now seeking to make their voice heard on the new constitution, which has to be promulgated by 28 May. A 40-day prayer session was started on 14 April - the start of the new Nepalese year 2067 - to keep up pressure on the government.
"Christ prayed for 40 days in the wilderness," said Bhab Ghale, a former Buddhist who now works for United Vision Nepal, a Christian organisation taking part in the prayers. "Christians worldwide have joined our prayer for a timely constitution, peace and development in Nepal."
Christians are seeking a new law in the constitution that will protect their religious rights. They want it to allow conversions to Christianity. They also want a religious commission set up to look after their affairs, similar to a Muslim commission.
[With acknowledgements to ENI. Ecumenical News International is jointly sponsored by the World Council of Churches, the Lutheran World Federation, the World Alliance of Reformed Churches and the Conference of European Churches.]