Religious row grows in Nepal as Hindus call closure

May 25th, 2011 - 2:47 pm ICT by IANS  

Kathmandu, May 25 (IANS) With only three days left for a potential constitutional upheaval, Nepal’s beleaguered communist government now faces religious tension as well with Hindu groups shutting down mid-western Nepal Wednesday as part of a two-day general strike.

The Vishwa Hindu Mahasangh (VHM), a Hindu group with close links to India’s militant Hindu organisations like the Vishwa Hindu Parishad and Shiva Sena, enforced the regional strike calling for the promulgation of a new constitution within the stipulated May 28 deadline, an end to cow slaughter and the prevention of conversion of Hindus into other religions.

The closure mainly targets Nepalgunj, the main town in Banke district near the Indian border, where police recently arrested two men for slaughtering cows and selling the meat.

The cow, besides being Nepal’s national animal, is also considered sacred by Hindus. Though Nepal, once the only Hindu kingdom in the world, became a secular republic formally three years ago, the state ban on cow slaughter remains.

The indigenous communities have been campaigning to discard the cow as the republic’s national animal, saying it smacks of a pro-Hindu bias in a secular state.

Supported by seven other Hindu groups, the VHM has called a 48-hour closure in Nepalgunj to be followed by a countrywide general strike Friday.

On Tuesday, another Hindu organisation had held a public veneration programme in Kathmandu valley, worshipping the cow and raising slogans against cow slaughter.

Nepalgunj has one of the largest Muslim populations in Nepal with a growing number of mosques and madrassas.

The muscle-flexing by the Hindu groups, which are also calling for the restoration of Hinduism as the state religion, has created deep unease among the Muslim community, a minority in the Hindu-majority republic.

In yet another alarming development for the religious minorities, police Wednesday raided the Balaju area of the capital and impounded 1,000 tridents from the residence of a Hindu activist.

Trikal Shrestha, a leader of Shiv Sena Nepal, was also arrested.

With Nepal heading towards fresh turmoil Saturday, when the tenure of parliament ends and the fate of the house and government becomes uncertain, there are fears of a breakdown in law and order.

Hindu groups, some of whom are also demanding the restoration of monarchy, an institution abolished in 2008, are calling for fresh elections to choose a new parliament if the current 601-seat house fails to promulgate a new constitution even after three years.

The government Tuesday banned public protests and meetings near parliament and key administrative offices and ordered five additional inspectors-general of police to fan out to the five different regions to ensure law and security.

Unlike its southern neighbour India, where sectarian violence has been a frequent phenomenon, Nepal enjoyed harmony among its different religious sects.

The first incident of sectarian violence erupted in 2004 after Islamic militants killed 12 Nepali workers in Iraq.

It led to violent attacks on mosques, airlines offices and recruitment companies.

In 2009, an underground militant Hindu outfit engineered a bomb explosion in a Catholic church in Kathmandu valley, killing three women at mass.

Though police arrested the mastermind, Ram Prasad Mainali, chief of Nepal Defence Army, this year, investigations found that he was plotting further attacks from his prison cell.

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