8-14 November 2013 #680

Is being Christian a crime?

Jagdish Pokhrel, Setopati, 6 November

It’s a common characteristic among Nepalis to insult or condemn those whose beliefs don’t line up with ours. In politics, the NC criticises the Maoists, the Maoists scorn the UML, republicans tackle the royalists, and the royalists disparage the republicans. Similarly, many so-called experts have not shied away from making cowardly remarks about minority religions like Christianity, just because they follow a different belief system.

Today, Hinduism and Islam are gaining popularity in America and Europe. There is at least one masjid in all 50 states. If tomorrow temples are built in every state, would the Americans stop working and start engaging in rabid discussions of such matters? Probably not because unlike us, they do not waste their time gossiping. Only in a country where there is more talk less action, is there so much drama surrounding ‘indigenous’ and ‘foreign’ religions and ethnicities. No wonder we are so far behind in terms of development.

In Nepal there is always a lingering accusation that Christianity is funded and promoted solely by foreigners. Such allegations are baseless. Yes, many churches receive donations from abroad, but if we look more closely, foreign money is involved in every tiny detail of our lives. From the food we eat, to the cars and motorbikes we drive, the wrist watches we wear, computers we use, none of them are domestically made. When food is distributed in famine-struck districts like Karnali, international aid is involved. There is no political party in the country that doesn’t receive donation from other nations. We are so quick to describe Christianity as a ‘foreign’ religion, but how often do we wear Nepal-made daura-suruwal, gunyo-cholo or ethnic dresses? And should we just discard everything because they come from abroad?

As long as Nepal does not become politically and economically stable, it will continue to be dependent on foreign help for even the most basic needs. This is not just the predicament of Christians, but of the entire country.

Christianity is seen as the main culprit in turning Nepal from a Hindu state to a secular one. Perhaps we Christians should be happy about this, as we are being credited for something we did not do. Even when Nepal was a Hindu kingdom, Christians never made the demand for secularism. We never organised any protests or called for bandas. Secularism is one of the most important pillars of a republican nation and we support it whole-heartedly. But we also know that just a mere tag is not going to end the intolerance or solve the problems that we face in our day-to-day lives.

In a truly secular country, there is a deeply embedded respect for diversity and multiple cultures and beliefs. Nepal is a Hindu-majority country, so naturally a lot of our customs and practices are still heavily influenced by Hinduism. The president attends Bhote Jatra, but not Eid or Christmas celebrations. The longest holiday in the year is also a Hindu festival. Many temples across the country are supported by state funds. Yet, some Hindus want the entire constitution to be written in their name. Is this not extremism?

It is human nature to make mistakes. Christians are guilty of making errors, even Hindus have their weakness. Thus, it is my humble request to everybody to not pick on one particular group. If any accusations made against us can be proved, we are willing to rectify them immediately. But we cannot accept the Taliban-style culture of suppressing religious minorities and not letting the number of churches or Christians grow and prosper. We live in a democratic society and everyone is free to choose his or her religion. Not allowing a person to do so is a severe violation of human rights.

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