With the former Hindu kingdom of Nepal ending a seven-month political deadlock by electing a new prime minister, Christian organisations are asking the new government to finalise a new constitution by May and guarantee the rights of Christians, including allowing an official burial site - writes Sudeshna Sarkar.
British religious rights group Christian Solidarity Worldwide has asked the new premier, Jhala Nath Khanal, to ensure that the new constitution – that failed to be completed by an earlier deadline last year – is enacted before 28 May and upholds freedom of religion, including the right to conversion.
"The election of a new PM is a positive step for Nepal, which we hope will give momentum to the constitution-drafting process," said Andrew Johnston, CSW's advocacy director. "The new constitution is essential for Nepal to complete its transition to secular democracy, and it must enshrine the human rights enshrined by the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Nepal is a state party."
CSW also supports the right to burial grounds in the new constitution, a current contentious issue in the South Asian republic. Though Nepal was declared secular by Parliament in 2006, its non-Hindu religious minorities, except for Muslims, still do not have official burial sites.
Christians had been using a forested land owned by the country’s oldest temple, the Pashupatinath, to bury their dead secretly. However, the trust that runs the shrine began demolishing non-Hindu graves in the forest this year, saying their presence hurt Hindu sentiments.
Nepal's Christian organisations are protesting against the demolitions. The United Christian Alliance of Nepal, an alliance of the Catholic church and nine religious bodies, asked the government to allot a separate plot for a Christian cemetery and form a religion ministry or commission.
Protestant organisations have been more insistent, threatening to leave corpses in front of the enclave housing the prime minister’s office and other major ministries if the demand for a separate grave site was not heeded.
There is increasing fear among the religious minorities that protracted political turmoil will derail the new constitution yet again. The new government is the third one in three years and Khanal, who won the election on 3 February after 16 rounds of voting, has still not been able to name his cabinet due to power-sharing conflicts with his key ally, the Unified Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist).
[With acknowledgements to ENInews. ENInews, formerly Ecumenical News International, is jointly sponsored by the World Council of Churches, the Lutheran World Federation, the World Communion of Reformed Churches and the Conference of European Churches.]