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Minorities contest census report

Two million Christians excluded, say leaders

  • Ashish Pradhan, Kathmandu
  • Nepal
  • November 27, 2012
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The National Population and Housing Census 2011 released yesterday showed the percentage of Christians in the population going up from 0.4 percent in 2001 to 1.4 percent last year. But religious leaders contend that the figures fail to account for millions of Christians.

According to the figures from the Central Bureau of Statistics, the country with a total population of 26,494,504 people has 375,699 Christians, mostly spread across rural areas.  

Christianity was the fifth most populous religion in the country after Hinduism (81.3 percent), Buddhism (9 percent), Islam (4.4 percent) and Kirat (3 percent), an indigenous shamanistic religion.

The report said the Buddhist population went down to 9 percent in 2011 from 10.7 percent 10 years ago.

Contesting the government figures, the secretary of the National Christian Federation, Chari Bahadur Gahatraj, said there are around 2.5 million Christians in the country now.

 “The census conducted by non-Christians always tends to show inaccurate and fewer numbers of Christians in Nepal,” Gahatraj said.

“We will soon hold a press conference and try to highlight the exact number of our community currently living in the country,” he added.

The report detailed 175,470 Christian men and 200,229 Christian women, with 85,823 members of the community in urban areas, and 289,876 in rural areas.

Catholic Bishop Anthony Sharma said that though there is no exact data on the Christian population in Nepal, there could be around two million currently.

“I cannot say immediately why the figures are inaccurate,” Nepal’s first bishop told ucanews.com.

“Even the country’s total population should have been around 31 million, not the figure released yesterday,” he said.

Catholics make up a tiny portion of Nepal’s total Christians, with the majority being Protestants. The Nepal Catholic Directory 2005-2006 counts about 7,500 Catholics in Nepal, mostly in the eastern region where parishes were set up in 1999.

The head of the Christian Concern Group Nepal, K.B. Rokaya, blamed the government and demographers for the “inaccuracies” in the census report.

According to him, the enumerators did not visit people’s home in most parts of the country and the data they collected was “guesswork.”

“In most cases, the enumerators never asked what religion people followed. They assumed that most of the people are Hindus and mentioned so in the papers,” said Rokaya, a member of Nepal’s National Human Rights Commission.

A Muslim leader also expressed "surprise" at the recent figures. President of the Nepal Muslim Forum, Nazarul Hussain, said Muslims account for at least 8-9 percent of the country’s total population.

“We will protest against the government’s recent head count,” he told ucanews.com, without elaborating.

Buddhists, too, contested the government’s report that showed a decline in their population. Piya Ratna, a former monk and the chief of the Religious Youth Service, an interfaith organization, said he was surprised to learn of the new figures. Buddhists account for at least 40 percent of the population in Nepal, he said.

According to the new census, the Hindu population saw a slight increase from the 2001 data.

The census also showed that people practice four other religions: Prakriti (nature worship), Bon, Jainism, Baha’i and Sikhism in the country, albeit with a negligible number of followers.

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