Maoists woo Muslims with offer of special commission

July 9th, 2008 - 2:23 pm ICT by IANS  

By Sudeshna Sarkar
Kathmandu, July 9 (IANS) In a bid to woo Nepal’s minority Muslims, Maoist supremo Prachanda has promised the formation of a powerful Muslim Commission to protect the rights of the group after a Maoist-led government is formed. “In the past, Muslims and other sects suffered oppression as Hindu extremism prevailed in Nepal. To compensate for that, our party supports giving Muslims special rights,” Prachanda, poised to be the next prime minister of Nepal, said at an event here Tuesday.

If his party formed the new government, the Maoist chief said it would constitute a national commission for Muslims and develop religious and historical places associated with them as tourist destinations.

Nepal currently has a National Human Rights Commission, a Women’s Commission and a commission for Dalits, communities once regarded as untouchables, but no commission based on religion.

The offer of a Muslim Commission is bound to cause heartburn among the former Hindu kingdom’s growing Christian community, which this month had its first “martyr” when a 60-year-old Roman Catholic priest was shot dead by an armed group in a southern district.

Though the murder was condemned by Christians worldwide, the government of Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala is yet to do so or offer compensation.

Muslims have been urging the government to include the group as a community in the constitution like other ethnic groups.

Currently, the group is getting its voice heard with 17 members in the newly elected constituent assembly, including, for the first time in the history of Nepal, women.

The Muslim lawmakers have also been opposing the demand by ethnic parties from the Terai plains for the creation of a Madhes state in the plains.

There are about three million Muslims in Nepal, with the majority living in the Terai belt. The community is among one of the most neglected, with little access to education and healthcare. They fear the creation of a single Madhes state in the plains would bulldoze their rights.

The demand for a Muslim Commission has been gaining ground since the eruption of sectarian violence in Kapilavastu district in the Terai earlier this year after the gunning down of a powerful landlord with alleged underworld connections.

As a sequel to the ensuing violence, at least two mosques were attacked and vandalised in the plains.

Though the Maoists profess to believe in no religion and pressed for the abolition of Hinduism as the state religion, they have now been wooing different religious groups for support in forming the next government.

In spite of emerging as the largest party in the April election, they have failed to form the new government, first due to Koirala refusing to resign, and now due to an ongoing protest in the constituent assembly by the Terai parties.

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