Politics of Religion and Conversion

By Dinesh Wagle

A conference of Nepali and Indian ultra-Hindu rightists in Mumbai last week has decided to launch “a coordinated campaign to re-establish Nepal as a Hindu state”. Kamal Thapa, who sees his future in religion-based politics, participated. Thapa said the conference expressed concern over sinister plans being carried out in Nepal to wipe out the identity of a Hindu state.

On a sweltering April afternoon in New Delhi, I met a former Nepali Congress lawmaker who is best known these days for pulling strings at the highest levels of the Indian establishment to get his wife deported to Nepal a few months ago. But Amresh Kumar Singh is not a man to be taken lightly when he talks about political happenings in Nepal.

“Do you think Ramdev went to teach yoga?” he asked referring to the Indian yoga guru’s highly publicised trip to Nepal a week earlier. “No. He was there to explore possibilities of establishing a new political party. That is why he met and talked to a variety of people during his stay.”

“You mean Ramdev will open a party in Nepal?”

“No, he and other people [from India] will help Nepalis to form a political force,” Singh said.

“Mark my words; we will soon see a rightist party in action in Nepal that will advocate restoration of Hindu Rashtra Nepal.”

The chronic disease of Hindu fundamentalism that has been spreading the viruses of hatred in India has slowly been asserting itself in Nepal in recent months. Under the more appealing banner of Hindutva, Nepali agents of the Indian Hindu right are gradually pushing the agenda of restoration of the monarchy. As the popularly elected political leadership is struggling to draft a constitution and take the peace process to a logical conclusion, these religious zealots are equating the issue of Hindu Rashtra with the dead monarchy.

What I know for sure is that people like me, liberal Hindus with a secular mindset, are in an overwhelming majority in Nepal. We want the country to be a forum equally accessible for people of all faiths. My own view — expressed first on my Facebook profile — is that religion is certainly not opium but a cigarette that should be smoked in private without disturbing other people. It’s a very personal thing. Politicising religion is dangerous as it inevitably invites conflict and violence in society. I even feel that people shouldn’t be classified according to their religious standing. They shouldn’t be asked about their religion in the national census. People should be given complete freedom to have or not to have faith in religion. That is precisely what our Interim Constitution does. More importantly, it bars forced conversion. While the constitution, for example, lets me dump my current religion and go for another if I wish to do so (because this act involves no one but me) it bars me from luring a person of a different faith to my religion (because this act involves a person apart from me).

But some people with vested interests are not happy with this constitutional provision. Take, for example, our cash rich European brothers who believe that they can buy Nepali dignity with some scratched euro or pound notes as if it were a stale pizza on sale in a rural Italian bakery. I was shocked to read a report in the Post few weeks ago that said, “The European Union… urged the [Nepal] government to allow ‘full freedom’ to proselytise while drafting the new constitution.” A letter forwarded by the French Embassy, in its capacity as the EU local presidency in Kathmandu, to the government said the current constitutional provisions on religious rights were “limited”. The sinister motive of the letter is clear: Buying poor Nepalis to Christianity should be legalised.

Who are the Europeans kidding here? This letter is a textbook example of unsavory forces trying to fish in the troubled waters of Nepal that is going through a difficult transitional crisis. Instead of doing so, the Europeans should look at themselves in the mirror where they will see countries like Malta, Monaco, Greece, Denmark, Iceland, Norway, Switzerland and England that, with their official religion, have a long way to go to become a secular nation like Nepal. The EU should write such letters to Germany and Finland, apart from the aforementioned countries, where the Evangelical and Roman Catholic Church and Finnish Orthodox Church enjoy de facto privileged status. Okay, for once, forget all this. Go and tell the Vatican City to become secular before lecturing us on religious freedom. Ask the BBC to give equal coverage to Benedict XVI and Ramdev, will you? This type of brazen intervention undermines our, secularists’, fight against Hindu fundamentalists in Nepal. This intervention also strengthens people like Kamal Thapa.

And France, by the way, should be the last country to advise us on religious affairs. The country, where religious minorities are treated very badly, has a terrible record on religious freedom. I am not saying this. In its 2009 edition of the annual International Religious Freedom report, the US State Department says the French government’s “discriminatory treatment of Jehovah’s Witnesses and Scientologists remained a concern”. The report says, “Some religious groups voiced opposition to legislation passed in 2001 and 2004, which provides for the dissolution of groups under certain circumstances and bans wearing of conspicuous religious symbols by public school employees and students.”

France not only violated its own 1905 law on the separation of religion and the state that prohibits discrimination on the basis of faith by banning Muslim symbols and allowing Christian symbols to be worn. No one has left Nepal because of an unfriendly religious environment; but according to several reports, many people belonging to the Muslim faith have been forced to leave France because of tightening control over religious freedom. No student has been expelled from a Nepali school for their faith, but two female junior high school students, Dounia and Khouloudewere, aged 12 and 13 respectively, were the first to be expelled under a draconian French law for refusing to take off their headscarves on Oct. 20, 2004 from a school in Mulhouse, Alsace.

The Europeans, instead of unnecessarily poking their nose into Nepali affairs, should rather go for trekking in the Himalaya and enjoy their Nepal assignment which anyway is nothing but a long holiday for them. If trekking is not enough and you miss your home, here is a suggestion: The Roadhouse Café in Thamel serves mouthwatering pizza; Délices de France, a restaurant run by a wonderful French woman and attacked by Maoist thugs during the recent strike, serves excellent chicken liver terrine; and nearby Dohori Saanjh restaurants serve unlimited glasses of beer. Chew, drink and cheer for your favourite football team. The World Cup is coming.

This article first appeared on the Op-Ed page of today’s Kathmandu Post.

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18 thoughts on “Politics of Religion and Conversion”

  1. Woah. Dinesh dai, that was a kick ass article.

    Probably someday you can come up with an article kicking india’s ass for its intervention in India.

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  2. Dear editor,
    Guru Ramdev has exposed that he tried to impact the securalism and republic to the Nepalese leaders & people. He is not Christian, but being a dedicated Hindu, why he could do so ? The issues of secularism, republic and federalism incorporated in the 12-point agreement are not their agendas rather a mission of CIA, RAW, European nations and Christians. The Brahmin traitors who are the prominent leaders of NC, UML and Maoist (including various NGOs and INGOs) have with support of foreign tools and resources become active and betrayed this holy land under the direction of foreigners. Now, Ramdev also became for securalism. May be he is also used by RAW or CIA.
    The supporter of Ramdev-the Maoist leader Prachanda, who opposes imperialist character, amidst a mass meeting of Christians at the Open Theater on 20 April 2010, said ‘Those who oppose secularism will be kidnapped’ (Rajdhani, 21 April 2010). Clapping will not even be heard from the Christians in such an assemblage, unless profits are made by Maoists and foreigners.UN Human Rights representatives ( OHCHAR) are spending money openly in Nepal and they do not want to inform the government of this. It has been made public that nongovernmental organizations of Nepal, and specifically by these nations, are spending Rs.10 to 15 billion every year Annapurna Post 11 March, 2010). This is how the Brahmins of civil society came to be working as employees of the CIA. Why, UNMIN, OHCHA and CIA are going to destroy the Hindu’s identity ? This will not good for them.
    Among all religions of the world, Hindu religion is considered as an ancient religion that is recognized as the foundation of civilization and as the most liberal democratic way of life. Hinduism & Buddhism are the identities & cultural assets of Nepal. The Lord Pashupathinath, Shoyambhunath, Lumbini, Barahachetra, Gosaikunda, Muktinath, Ridi, Janakidham, Devghat of Nepal, Kailash Mansharobar of Tibet (well accessed for Nepalese and Hindus), and Tirupati, Rameshroram, Jagannath, Badrinath, Amarnath of India are the symbolic shrines of Hinduism & Buddhism. The people of Nepal and India always have cordial relations due to the cultural and religious resemblance. They should know that if instability persists in Nepal, it could be a bastion of terrorism posing a threat to the whole world. When present India (Hindustan) was not in existence, there were more than 25 nations, 250 years ago, the great King Prithvi Narayan Shah expressed ‚Äì”Nepal is true Hindustan.”
    Thank you.

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  3. Nice article. But I had thought that France banned had ALL religious symbols in its public schools, including Christian. Isn’t that right?

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  4. Someone needs to kick this Dick raj Praisai’s as well ! He is littering your blog for quite some time !

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  5. Hindu Religion itself is not bad but the corrupted, uncivilized leaders of Nepal are demoralising it to gain non-hindu people’s support in their dirtiest game. I advise you all to go through the religious books especially GITA and try to find out what is wrong in it. If you see anything wrong, it not the book but you are wrong because you cannot take the right path, you cannot do good to others, and you do not want to follow the religion as you want to be the most notorious person. Hindu religion is the only religion that is not an organized religion but you see other religions they are all organized and they are not the religion but parties who work for own benifits.

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  6. It must hit hard now when right after Jan andolan rather than for the people, the assembly unilaterally passed for secularism and move to destroyed last bastion of hope of Nepali culture and strong hold- Monarchy- Monarchy. I understand there is different take on Monarchy with dislikes and likes. But that is beside the point. There never was call for these two but it happened. Did it happen by accident? Hell no. This was quite evident even then but our so-called- leaders being third eyed blind followed and acted on pledged under heavy burden of dollar induced strings compulsions. See what happens when you think you are smart.

    Never knowing or caring for the consequencies- the jubiliant crowd- nation changed for the worst just because western interest was paramount then the national interest. And even now- it is these powers that guide course of our nation because all our leaders, NGOs and civil society members kow tow to them and we, the people, are made party to crime against our own land.

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  7. I dont want to say anything on above article, we all know Hinduism is an ancirnt civilisation for which we all Hindus should be proud of. When other countries can be Christain and Muslim countries. Then what harm we Nepal being a Hindu nation. Secular Country can lead us to nowhere , where Christain missionaries will try to convert by giving money and force conversion. So let Nepal be a Hindu country and we do not want Nepal to become, Pakistan, Afghanistan , we need to control other population and our place of worship.

    And most important thing no Political party in Nepal has the guts to defend Hinduism and those who are insisting for Secular state , let them come forward and say to Nepalis people,let there be refrendum ,whether people want a Hindu state or Secular Nepal. Then in true sense ,people can say ,yes we are a true Democratic country.

    As I would not be a slave, so I would not be a master. This expresses my idea of democracy.
    Abraham Lincoln

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  8. Wonderfully put, DineshJi! As a liberal, social Hindu and a Nepali, I share your stance against the fundamentalism that is being spread to Nepal from the far-right zealots in India.

    Yet, I do think that as long as the Hindu nation issue is coupled with the restoration of monarchy and pushed by the likes of Kamal Thapa, I see no threat to our budding secularism. I just hope that they do not realize their mistake.

    Still, the ineffectiveness of the current government, the secular political parties and the constituent assembly to find a lasting solution to the ongoing instability and turmoil will give these Hindu-nationalists an opening. Let’s hope vigilant journalists like yourself, will at least alert the public and the civil society of the forthcoming onslaught.

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  9. Dinesh,

    Again inadvertently you just made the case for reinstating Nepal with 85% Hindus as a Hindu state. When we were a Hindu state – all religions lived in harmony – we practiced secularism under a Hindu state. Now under secularism we have more divisions and undercurrent of divisions due to religion. I’m afraid making Nepal a secular nation has made it – how do I put it – LESS SECULAR AND LESS TOLERANT. Something bleeding heart liberal fools donot understand and realise later – much much later.

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  10. Needless to add – I guess the author realises what the anandolan was about in reality and why the monarchy had to be removed – or maybe you still have’nt caught on as yet. You will —– eventually.

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  11. WELL it is not the hindu fantatics disturbing the shopkeepers is it.

    we need values for young generation maybe the hindus were dreaming but reality is harsh, hindu fanatic is contradictory, the intolerance is like a virus it is best to stay out of the fighting and think for oneself, when all comes from vedas there is no contradiction between the great spiritual paths all are valid.

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  12. I’m sorry, Dinesh, but you’ve got it wrong about France. France outlaws all religious symbols in schools. Its called separation of church and state. Something we have in the USA as well. As for discrimination, I would question whether scientology is a religion. Its more of a cult. And as for Muslims, France as is Belgium, is only banning wearing of the burqa, not practicing the religion itself. If you’re a tolerant Muslim, Hindi, Sikh, Christian, Jew, Buddhist, Zoroastrian or Paganist,whatever your faith, you are welcome to practice your religion freely in both the USA and in Europe and it is illegal to discriminate. you will find many mosques in Europe. France, as does much of Europe, feel burqas, which are like black tent prisons for women, are incompatible with our western ideals. If Muslims want to wear burqas, let then do so in their own Muslim countries. Women in the west do not cover their entire bodies. We aren’t talking about head coverings here, by the way. Women are more than free to cover their heads in France, as are Sikh men allowed to wear turbans. And, as i said previously, all religious symbols are banned in French schools, as they should be. Religion and government do not mix.

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  13. One more comment, Dinesh. French students are not allowed to wear crosses, either, or turbans, or any other religious symbols in school. This is not about intolerance. Its about France strictly enforcing the separation of church and state. Schools in France are government run. This is as it should be. Its not Muslims who are being discriminated against in Europe or the USA. Its fundamentalist Muslims who advocate violence against all non Muslims, who they call “infidels”. I, for one, have no problem with this, just as I would hope the Nepal government would work to stop Hindu fanatics from using violence to achieve their aims.

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  14. does it matter what people of nepal actually want? how about a referendum on having sanatan dharma (which includes buddhism) as state religion?

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  15. i think we hindus if are strong no us missionaries can buy us and change our religion ,faith from hindu t o christian,. we here worship cow as mother as god then can we eat the meat of cow following christian, no i dont but the people who are standing against and in favour of hinduism both have corrupted brain , hindusiam will not die ,why are u afraid dont u have faith on our s religion , if yes then u dont need to comment others follow the disciplines tht geeta teaches , that vedas teaches then every thing will be all right

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  16. Good topic. Coming from the used to be prohibited left in Europe I have always been fascinated by mind control in every sense. We were saved by America, we do business with America, we must hate their enemies…
    It is all a matter of stronger lobbies, if we had a little doubt the Soviet Union was a good thing, at least we were reflecting upon the other ´camps´.
    These days all just take for granted that a muslim wants to mutilate or jihad, and muslims are rightfully upset at 3 generations of indifference then suddenly hatred because they did not adapt. What adapt my father adapted as latinos do, adapt to what?
    To one coocky and clean ur windows?
    Peace culture or the culture of tolderance must be investigate each others´thinking. Maybe we are more intelligent than they are, just because we are third world. We need more sports to beat them the superficial materialistic….
    But the worst is the arguments, the fascist and nationalist now use typically feminist arguments to make good money out of their frustrations. We the educated feel alientated in our old Europe of inhospitality.
    Itchy terrorists.

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  17. The gap between uneducated and open minded or the real workers bored with those who get help and they did not…explains for a new european policy combined with true economic crash.
    We never liked gypsies now they go something like that.
    There has been patience with headscarfs and unadapted fashions, now the boredome of scanners and fingerprints, costs of new digital passports and so on.
    We cannot build enough prisons for whom? Parents have a job in the home, if school cannot remediate, prisons will do, if there are not enough prisons mao will help.
    But aks chinese maobadi how the human rights were in China.
    Nepalese understand that they are too free. Freedom is knowing the panorama of choices and making good choices. It is in a way a very sad misunderstanding between middle aged authoritarian thinking and some stupid materialism, happiness or spritituality being mind over matter.
    But the reaction of pro muslims has a lot to do with emancipation from something not us. Looking for our own identity. This is not so hard to understand. And because the young generation feels french they feel they can express themselves they are too lineage holders of the french revolution.

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