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Austin Cline

Nepal Now a Secular State, Not Hindu Kingdom

By September 1, 2006

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Statue of Kali in Khatmandu, Nepal
Image Source: Jupiter Images
On May 18, 2006, the government of Nepal announced that it would henceforth consider itself a "secular state" rather than a Hindu kingdom. All citizens, regardless of religion, would have equal rights. The announcement followed a large number of pro-democracy demonstrations and was welcomed by members of non-Hindu religious minorities like Catholics.

Americans United reports:

The reconvened parliament issued a proclamation ending the absolute power of the monarchy and also declaring Nepal a secular state. Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala said the move would protect the rights of the nation’s minorities.

Roman Catholics throughout Nepal offered prayers of thanksgiving at weekend masses, and Buddhist, Christian and tribal groups also welcomed the country’s new secular status.

Robert Gurung, a member of the Good Hope Pentecostal Church, said the decision was “revolutionary and democratic. It will ensure justice among the different religious, cultural and linguistic minorities in the country.”

Pasang Sherpa, secretary-general of the Confederation of Indigenous and Ethnic Groups of Nepal, said: “With this declaration, the nation has moved towards ensuring social justice and harmony. In a democracy, minorities cannot be marginalized. Nepal is starting a new chapter now.”

All of this sounds very good; I don’t know if religious minorities were disadvantaged or discriminated against in any way, but it seems likely that if they were constantly told that Nepal was a “Hindu” state then they would be getting the message that as non-Hindus they were second-class citizens in some respect. It’s unlikely that no privileges were accorded to Hindus or Hindu organizations, otherwise what would the label “Hindu kingdom” have really meant?

Analogous to Christians in America who insist that the United States is a “Christian Nation” rather than a secular state, Hindu leaders in Nepa are not so happy with this development:

Kesab Adhikari, a senior teacher in a school within Nepal’s holiest Hindu temple complex of Pasupathinath, expressed anguish over the declaration. “If we ran a referendum, 80 percent would still be for calling Nepal a Hindu state,” he said.

The Times of India reports:

“The decision of the so-called Parliament has hurt the faith of the 900 million Hindu populace across the globe and brought about possibilities of a religious crusade in Nepal,” Shiv Sena Nepal President Arun Subedi said.

The Parliament should not have panicked over preserving the only Hindu Kingdom in a world where 52 countries are Christians and 46 Muslims, the outfit said.

Arjun Lamichhane of the Bishwo Hindu Youth Federation said the issue of secularism should not be raised in a country where religious tolerance has always prevailed.

How is the faith of Hindus anywhere, Nepal or elsewhere, harmed if Nepal treats all religions equally? If religious tolerance has always prevailed in Nepal, then secularism shouldn’t bother anyone because a secular atmosphere is the one where true tolerance can find the best home. Of course, some people define “tolerance” narrowly to simply mean “we can eliminate you but choose not to — instead we will tolerate your existence so long as you don’t make trouble.” That sort of tolerance is almost as bad as active persecution and if that’s the sort of “tolerance” which “prevailed” in Nepal, then this change is definitely a step in the right direction.

The biggest question, I suppose, is how the daily life of any Hindus in Nepal will change for the worse. If there are no such changes, then there hardly seems to be any basis for complaining. Perhaps Nepal’s status as a “Hindu State” was more symbolic than anything else, but symbols are important and mean something. Hindus can’t declare that it’s important enough to them now to warrant so much complaining, but turn around and say that it’s so unimportant that non-Hindus shouldn’t complain about it. The bigger the fuss which Hindus make about it now, the more they justify concerns of non-Hindus and the need for a change.

 

Secularism & Secularization:

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