Nepal Christians begin vigil for new constitution

April 20th, 2010 - 5:47 pm ICT by IANS  

Kathmandu, April 20 (IANS) For the first time in Nepal’s history, its minority Christian community Tuesday joined the socio-political process, beginning a “vigil” to ensure that the new constitution would be enacted in time and guarantee religious freedom to all.
The open-air stage in Tundikhel, traditionally the bastion of political rallies, overflowed with Christians from different denominations, including a large number of women, who prayed with hands raised, sang prayers and clapped with gusto when their demand for a timely constitution, which would also defend secularism, was joined by Nepal’s biggest party, the Maoists.

The Maoists, who had fought a 10-year war from 1996 to abolish the Hindu kingdom of Nepal and usher in secularism, was the only party to throw its weight behind the call for secularism in public.

C.B. Gahatraj, general secretary of the Central Committee for Christian Recommendations for the New Constitution, came down heavily on the ruling parties - Prime Minister Madhav Kumar Nepal’s Communist Party of Nepal-Unified Marxist Leninist (UML) and the Nepali Congress (NC) - for staying away even though their top leaders had said they would come.

“The top leaders who had spoken for secularism during the heat of the pro-democracy movement of 2006 are now conspiring against it,” Prachanda said.

“Nepal is a country of many communities, languages and religions. Yet for centuries, one community, language and religion ruled,” the former revolutionary said. “Our party has been urging special measures for the communities that have been marginalised and oppressed for centuries. We spoke for Dalits, women and Muslims. We are speaking for Christians too.”

Amidst admission by the ruling parties that the new constitution would not be enacted by May 28, Prachanda said it was still not too late.

“There’s still more than a month left and a lot of work has been already done on the constitution,” he said. “A timely constitution is possible if the ruling parties rectify their mistakes.”

Prachanda said though people had voted for his party during the 2008 elections, “traditional, feudal agents who opposed democracy, secularism and federalism” brought his government down.

“If the unholy ruling alliance is dissolved and a new national government is formed, it is still possible to form a new constitution in time,” the Maoist supremo said.

The expressions of solidarity by Prachanda and former Maoist minister Pampa Bhushal at the first political rally by Christians in Nepal is bound to garner greater support for the former guerrillas in the Christian community.

It is estimated that there are at least 700,000 Christians in Nepal, which has a population of 27 million.

While the prime minister’s party, as communists, does not publicly support Hinduism, the largest party in the coalition government, the Nepali Congress, however is showing itself to be pro-Hindu.

Several of its ministers and leaders have begun supporting campaigns by Hindu groups for the restoration of Hinduism as the state religion and the President, Ram Baran Yadav, has been attending all Hindu festivals in his official capacity though Nepal became secular in 2006.

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