Secular budget triggers unholy row in Nepal (Second Lead)

September 20th, 2008 - 7:08 pm ICT by IANS  

Kathmandu, Sept 20 (IANS) Riot police were called to restore order as violence, arson and looting erupted Saturday at the heart of the capital as its Newar community went on the rampage, protesting the secular budget unveiled Friday that slashed allocations for religious festivals.Kathmandu’s famous Basantapur Durbar Square, a Unesco-declared world cultural heritage site that boasts of the old palace of the deposed Shah kings and the palace of the Kumari, Nepal’s living goddess, turned into a battlefield early Saturday as hundreds of youths went on the warpath smashing metal road dividers, torching billboards and police posts and hurling bricks as police tried to intervene.

The New Road area, one of the busiest shopping centres in the capital, and its adjoining Sundhara and Ratna Park, two major bus stations, simmered with tension as mobs wielding batons and wooden poles swarmed the area, raising angry slogans against the Maoist-led government.

The lines of shops downed shutters hastily after crowds began looting some of the open ones and the car of a lawmaker was vandalised.

The public anger of a nation once deeply religious and still unable to come to terms with its new-won secularism was triggered by the ambitious budget unveiled by Maoist Finance Minister Baburam Bhattarai Friday that made no allowances for Hindu festivals.

The NRS 236 billion budget focused on education, health and building roads, and discontinued the traditional state largesse given for buying and sacrificing animals during Hindu festivals.

Saturday also marked the end of Indrajatra, the festival of the rain god, a major tradition for an agrarian nation.

Traditionally, the festival ends with the Kumari being taken around the capital in her chariot and the offering of animal and bird sacrifices.

However, this time the lack of state funds enraged the local Newar community, the original residents of Kathmandu valley, who began protesting violently at the “state interference” in religion and a tradition that goes back to centuries.

The anger is likely to grow next month when Nepal celebrates its biggest Hindu festival Dashain, which corresponds to neighbour India’s Dussera.

Thousands of animals and birds are slaughtered at various Hindu temples throughout October and November as part of the rituals.

The Nepal Army and Police subscribe to the practice and last year, the government sanctioned NRS 1.8 million for Dashain sacrifices alone and an additional NRS 3.2 million on other rituals.

However, animal rights activists, who have been condemning the sacrifices, would welcome the new state measure.

Once the world’s only Hindu kingdom, where its kings were revered as incarnations of god Vishnu, Nepal became secular after a pro-democracy movement two years ago that also saw the abolition of its 239-year-old monarchy.

The violence also stoked the tension between Nepal’s ruling parties.

Maoist Finance Minister Bhattarai criticised Home Minister and Deputy Prime Minister Bamdev Gautam, who belongs to the Communist Party of Nepal-Unified Marxist Leninist (UML), for failing to curb the violence.

Though Gautam asked newly appointed police chief Hem Bahadur Gurung to restore order in the tense area, protesters continued to paralyse the square.

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