Christians give 48-hour ultimatum to Nepal government

April 4th, 2011 - 4:07 pm ICT by IANS  

Kathmandu, April 4 (IANS) On a relay hunger-strike in Kathmandu for 13 days, Nepal’s enraged Christian community Monday gave a 48-hour ultimatum to the fledgling government of Prime Minister Jhala Nath Khanal: to give them a plot of land for an official cemetery or have protesters dump Christians’ corpses in front of the prime minister’s office.

“We want the world to know how Nepal is trampling Christians’ basic human rights,” said Sundar Thapa, the pastor of a church in Kathmandu and the coordinator of the newly formed organisation that this year began a campaign to get an official plot of land from the government for Christians to bury their dead.

“Though officially secular, Nepal continues to treat us with bias because we happen to be Christians.”

Over two dozen men and women sat patiently under a canopy close to the Ranipokhari Lake of Kathmandu singing hymns, reading together from the Bible translated into Nepali and praying together.

“Show us our burial land,” read the posters put up before the makeshift stage. “We don’t want employ (sic), we don’t want resident (sic), we don’t want fooding (sic),” said another illustrated with a coffin. “We want just burial land.”

Though the Christian Burial Ground Prayer and National Struggle Committee, which is leading the protests, has been trying to enlist the support of the political parties and human rights organisations, the former’s glib promises of mediating with the prime minister have come to nothing.

Unable to form a full-fledged cabinet even two months after becoming premier, Khanal remains mired in various crises, the gravest being the possibility of failing to unveil a new constitution by May 28 and plunging the country into a constitutional vacuum.

Neither has he been able to disband the guerrilla army of the Maoist party, his only ally in the coalition government, with nearly 20,000 combatants still living in cantonments.

The Christian protests started after Nepal’s oldest Hindu shrine said it would not allow non-Hindus to bury their dead in an ancient forest that is the temple’s property, alleging it was outraging Hindu sentiments.

With the authorities of the Pashupatinath temple, a Unesco-declared world heritage site, barring the Shleshmantak forest, where Christians and other non-Hindus had been burying their dead secretively in the past, Christians say they have no option but to go on a strong protest.

“There are nearly 2 million Christians in Nepal today,” Thapa said. “But the government continues to turn a blind eye to us. If we don’t hear from them by Tuesday, we have no option but to place the dead bodies of our people in front of Singha Durbar (the heart of the government where the PMO and other major ministries are located.”

Though Nepal, once the only Hindu kingdom in the world, became secular in 2006, Christians don’t have any official cemetery.

The campaign however has divided the community with some distancing themselves from it.

Bible scholar and pastor Ramesh Khatri said in a tiny country like Nepal, where land was a premium commodity and even the living did not have access to it, he was perfectly happy to be cremated after death.

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