Nepal’s religious minorities are preparing for the country’s adoption of a new constitution with a vigorous campaign against religious discrimination.
Amidst growing fears that the new constitution, expected to uphold secularism in the former Hindu kingdom, may miss its scheduled 31 August 2011 deadline, the campaigners are demanding that the government respect the deadline and recognise the right to religious freedom as a fundamental right in the document.
The Inter-Religious Secularism Protection Movement (IRSPM) is asking the communist-led coalition government to allow churches, mosques, monasteries and other non-Hindu institutions to be registered as religious bodies and waive the taxes they have to pay as they are still regarded as personal properties.
“The state patronises four religious trusts, mostly Hindu, which also get financial assistance,” said Chari Bahadur Gahatraj, a Protestant pastor and IRSPM spokesman. “When Nepal became secular in 2006, we hoped we too would be entitled to the same benefits. Our churches face litigation and closure because the government still refuses to recognise them as religious institutions.”
The campaigners are also asking for a Religion Commission and a Religion Act to protect the rights of all sects, as well as proportional representation for the religious minorities in all state organs, like the army, judiciary and bureaucracy.
[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.]