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Saying Bye Bye to Hindu Kingdom- New Nepal is SECULAR

Saying Bye Bye to Hindu Kingdom- New Nepal is SECULAR

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Published by Manoj Bhusal
The historic people's movement of 2006 has abolished autocratic Nepali regime as well as its tinged value as a Hindu state. This essay analyses how the tide of secularization invaded the Nepali territory...an article by Manoj Bhusal
The historic people's movement of 2006 has abolished autocratic Nepali regime as well as its tinged value as a Hindu state. This essay analyses how the tide of secularization invaded the Nepali territory...an article by Manoj Bhusal

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Published by: Manoj Bhusal on May 13, 2008
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06/16/2009

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Religion in the public sphere of Nepal
On 31 August 2004, Kathmandu, the capital city of Nepal, was in total chaos. On theday before 12 Nepali workers had been killed, 11 were shot and one was beheaded, inan Iraqi city by an Islamic extremist group called Army of Ansar al-Sunna. It was one of the "worst days" in Nepal’s history. The militants said the 12 Nepalis had been killed because they "came from their country to fight the Muslims and to serve the Jews andthe Christians".This incident brought unprecedented waves of protest and anger in the streets of Nepal.Thousands of angry protesters came to the streets, and for the first time in Nepal’shistory a mosque in the heart of the capital city was attacked and destroyed. At the sametime the political elements who were secretly working against the stability anddemocracy in Nepal also used the situation in their favour and fuelled thedemonstrations to achieve their political aim. In the beginning, the Muslim communityin the country was targeted; however, later the violence spewed into almost all sectorsof the society causing several killings, injuries and a huge economic loss. The capitalcity was under curfew for several days and the religious minorities felt insecure andintimidated. This incidence radically shook the religious tolerance of Nepal which had been a Nepali identity since time immemorial. On the other hand, it raised a major question about the relationship between religion, society and the state. Nepal was the world’s only constitutionally declared Hindu state till 2006, though arevolutionary political change of April 2006 made the country a secular state. For almost 240 years the country had been ruling by the Shah dynasty who were believed to be the reincarnations of the Hindu gods. In this way, the rulers used Hinduism as a toolfor the perpetuation of their oppressive reign.According to the 2001 census, 80.6 percent of Nepalese are Hindu, whereas, 10.7 and4.2 percent believe in Buddhism and Islam respectively. Almost 3.6 percent of Nepaleseare Kirati, followers of an indigenous religion called Kirat, while 0.5 percent beingChristian believers.Before the establishment of democracy in Nepal in 1990, Hinduism would play asignificant role in socio-political matters. The kings, believed to be reincarnated gods,
 
would work as the absolute rulers and the laws would be built on their wish whichwould largely be based on Hindu norms and doctrines. Moreover, donations obtainedfrom the Hindu temples would be sent to the royal palace instead of social welfareworks. Social life was also intricately linked and governed by religious beliefs. Majorityof social norms, traditions and rules were based on mythological Hindu texts and their interpretations. In absence of democracy, media was not free and the state-owned radioand television would start their broadcast by chanting Hindu mantras and songs.However, the Nepali society did not let its religious harmony erode even during themost difficult days. There have been no major religious scuffles in the modern history of  Nepal except few exceptions such as the inter-religious riot of August 2004.The new social and political paradigm of post 1990 significantly decreased the role of religion from the socio-political sphere. Democratic norms, values and customs startedsuperseding the narrow religious codes. The 1990 democratic constitution ended thestate’s promotion of Hindu nationalism and official suppression of political participation based on religious, cultural, and linguistic traits offering greater freedom of religiousexpression. Recent statistics show that the number of Hindu believers is steadilydeclining from the population of Nepal; however, there has been gradual increase in thenumber of Buddhist, Christian and Kirat believers.The present Nepali scenario vividly demonstrates that the role of religions in publicsphere is gradually declining. Whereas, there is another reality that Hinduism still playsa major role in shaping individual behaviors and it has been the source of many culturaltraits since time immemorial. However, when people have to take an important decisionregarding personal or public affairs, rationality plays pivotal role instead of religion.Moving forward from the 1990’s constitution, today’s interim constitution of Nepal hasdeclared Nepal as a secular state. One interesting fact is that these days many importantcultural ceremonies are attended by the prime minister as an acting head-of-state, but in previous days the king would be revered in such festivities as a reincarnation of God.Today all Nepali people know that a king can be a dictator, but not God. After assessingall the circumstances, it can be generalized that Nepal will be more secularized infuture. Nepali media sector has mushroomed after the establishment of democracy. Today thereare at least half a dozen private TV stations and dozens of radio stations all over the

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