Nepal's Move Toward Secularism Could Spawn Hindu Backlash

May 30, 2006

Source: The Christian Science Monitor

On May 30, 2006 The Christian Science Monitor reported, "The May 18 declaration by Nepal's parliament ending the country's distinction as the world's only Hindu state was one of the several hard decisions taken by the new government to coax Maoist rebels to join in a peaceful political process. But the move has bred new conflict with the country's Hindu majority.

Hindu groups in Nepal - which have strong backing from powerful Hindu fundamentalist organizations in neighboring India - have termed the declaration of a secular Nepal as 'defamatory' and 'dangerous,' and have said that it could provoke a 'religious crusade' in this tiny Himalayan nation.

Following the announcement, Hindu groups organized rallies in at least four districts here, and forced the southern industrial town of Birgunj to close for two days last week... Hindu leaders warn that this is just the beginning of what would be a nationwide campaign in the country, which is 80 percent Hindu...

There may not be a better example of the importance Hindu groups around the world - especially in India - lay on Nepal than the fact that the WHF is customarily headed by an individual recommended by the King of Nepal. The country's kings are believed to be the incarnations of Vishnu - one of the top three gods in the extremely populous Hindu pantheon that theoretically has 330 million gods. Currently, the federation is headed by Bharat Keshari Singh, a top aide of King Gyanendra...

'Imagine a day when people slaughter cows in front of Kathmandu's temples. Hindus will be ready to give up their lives to stop it,' [Hari Bhakta Neupane, president of Sanatan Dharma Sewa Samiti]warns. Expressing worries also over the possibility of a conversion drive by people of other faiths, Neupane added that the campaign to have Nepal remain a Hindu state will soon reach each of the country's 75 districts to prevent all these 'unpleasant eventualities.'

While Hindus have strong reservations, Buddhist groups representing 12 percent of the population in Nepal, as well as Muslim, Kirat, Jain, Christian, and other minority groups, have welcomed the declaration. But those who have been most vocal in welcoming the move are the ethnic minorities...

According to the Nepalese government's Central Bureau of Statistics, there are over 103 castes and ethnicities, at least 92 different languages, and over 10 different religions in Nepal."