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Secularism is assured: House speaker

Minister calms fears over return to Hindu dominance

Leaders of minorities take the stage at a meeting on secularism in Kathmandu Leaders of minorities take the stage at a meeting on secularism in Kathmandu
  • Chirendra Satyal, Kathmandu
  • Nepal
  • July 30, 2012
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The speaker of Nepal’s suspended Constituent Assembly said yesterday that the new constitution, once drafted, would enshrine secularism.

Responding to concerns over the stalled process, Subash Nemwang offered an assurance that the country would not return to an era which saw Hinduism dominate. He was speaking at a meeting in Kathmandu, attended by leaders of minority religions, which was screened live on television.

Referring to the era when Nepal's monarchs were believed to be the earthly incarnations of Hindu gods, he said: "now the country cannot go backwards.”

The process of drawing up a new republican constitution in Nepal following a decade-long civil war ending in 2006 has stalled over disagreements on issues including ethnic-based federalism, but Nemwang insisted the issue of secularism was not a point of contention.

“Unlike other topics which required discussion, secularism was approved and okayed by leaders without controversy,” he said, adding that it had been discussed during Constituent Assembly meetings.

Maoist Prime Minister Baburam Bhattarai suspended the assembly at the end of May amid deadlocked discussions on a new constitution.

After winning the civil war, the atheist Maoist insurgents declared Nepal to be secular, a point which is yet to be enshrined as the constitution remains unfinished.

Many leaders of minority religions have warned that without such a provision they would continue to suffer persecution in Nepal.

Christians and Muslims have been killed in the past and churches bombed with little effort to investigate, said Pastor Chari Gahatraj, head of Freedom for All, the group that organized yesterday’s meeting.

Nepal’s Minister for Peace and Reconstruction Top Rayamaihi said at the meeting yesterday that Nepal still had to institutionalize the outcomes “of the struggle of the people” - a reference to the civil war - one of which was secularism.

Damodar Gautam, the head of the Nepal wing of the World Hindu Federation who declined to attend yesterday’s meeting, today accused minority religions in Nepal of using secularism as a by-word for religious freedom, adding that the term was anti-religious by definition.

“Even the Vatican warns Catholics against secularism,” he said. “Secularism gives atheists the upper hand over religions in the long run. All religions should oppose this term in a still deeply religious country like ours.”

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