Nepal’s Constitution and Religion of State
ASIA--PACIFIC, 24 Aug 2015
18 August 2015 – Religion is a personal faith and individual’s belief that cannot be imposed by a law in any modern democracy in free world. All citizens should have freedom to profess and practice whatever religion or faith one has and this should be protected and respected by law and by state without discrimination. This is civilization. Ram was born in India and India has the largest Hindu population in world but it is a secular country with all faiths practiced within its territory. Hinduism’s identity and its universal significance are not lost in India as a secular state. On the contrary, Hinduism is shining in Hindustan. Nepal is not the “Aaryawat” of ancient Hindu dominance. Historically, Nepal and Nepalese are not the crusader of Hindu religion. Nepal’s national and international identity was not established by religion in the past and it is not going to be defined by Hindu religion in this century. Nepal’s identity is known by the “Gorkhali” gallantry and valour, Mount Everest and Lord Buddha. Lord Buddha was born in Nepal. He is Nepali by birth. Why no one in Nepal wants to say Buddhism is also Nepal’s religion? Isn’t Buddhism an integral part of tradition and our civilization? If not, what will be the status of Lord Buddha and Buddhism, constitutionally? We should stop being reactionary if someone else starts popularizing national influence and image in the name of land of Buddha’s knowledge.
Generally noted, political leadership in power is silent on constitutional issues when dissatisfied groups and political parties are calling for anarchy if Hinduism and ethnically-based provincial mini-states are not defined. This development is unhealthy and will only contribute to rise in communal tension and hatred, and breed social and religious disharmony in society. As a consequence, it will serve only the interests of ruling political parties and government elites who simply want to cling on to power and position, no matter what happens to nation, in the absence of voices from responsible citizens on issues relating to other contentious elements in the draft constitution. The focus on religion and creation of ethnic-base mini-states by few political parties has somewhat derailed wholesome national debate on other important issues. This is not contributing positively in nation-building process. The entire nation has gone on hysteric on the two issues as if there are no other issues of national and international significance. This may be good for ruling elites and parties because they may not obliged to make any changes in the draft constitution which was presented for comments by them. This will not augur well for the future of this country in the long run.
On the question of declaring a state religion we should not generate rooms for negative consequences for future generation as we live in an inter-connected globe (not in the past century). Millions of Nepalese live and work around the world in different communities with Muslims, Christians, Buddhists, Confucians and other communities. We must remain conscious that our decision should not give births to future backlash for Nepalese in the country and elsewhere.
Once Nepal is declared a Hindu State by constitution the protection of this faith will automatically fall on the President of Nepal. King is gone so we would have to receive Prachanda, Sushil Koirala or KP Oli, likely immediate aspirants to the post, as new protector of Hindu religion and traditions. These meant, in general, these individuals as new incarnation of Lord Bishnu and, treat them like a God. What a great nation Nepal would be then when we would convert and elevate demagogue communist or socialist into a Hindu God? Unless, there is a future plan to bring the king back or appoint another religious bigot as protector of Hinduism in Nepal! In that case, surely, we will have a place in the Guinness Book of World Records for it could be one of the 8th wonders of modern world. Wonders do happen in Nepal, after all !
Having lived for years in Bangladesh and Pakistan I have observed followers of other religious faiths (other than Islam) are discriminated and minorities have become disadvantageous in society. Put it simply, minority faith groups are generally persecuted in countries dominated by religious fanatics and, people live in constant fear of religious persecution. The current wind in Nepal gives me an impression that we may be heading towards this direction. In Nepal’s history we never had national disunity and religious disharmony, but in the name of political party unity, culturally non-existent consensus-building anathema, pluralist democracy in a hierarchical society, social justice and equality in deeply rooted feudalist minds-set and living environment; creating republicanism in this nation is appearing misguided and cracking, and seeds of sectarian divide, national disunity, communal hatred and tension are being planted. What kind of political transformation and social advancement is this? We should not create a situation whereby followers of other faiths are further marginalized and disrespected. All citizens should be equally protected by state laws without discrimination of individual’s faith.
We should try to learn from Muslim majority Indonesia, which follows largely Hindu and Buddhist traditions and cultural practices for years and continues to remain so this day without religious disharmony. Near ninety percent of Indonesia’s population follow Islam and has a national ideology of ‘Panchasila (although Javanese) which has its origin in Sanskrit. Panchasila includes five principles; believe in one GOD, humanity, unity of (nation) Indonesia, democracy and social justice. It is not a Muslim country by law, although demand is growing in recent years with the rise of Islamic fundamentalism. With religious freedom it recognizes six important faiths; Islam, Protestantism, Catholicism, Hinduism, Buddhism and Confucian. Hinduism and Buddhism represents less than 3% of over 300 million people but culture and tradition are influenced by minority Hinduism and Buddhism. One of the biggest Hindu temples in the world is in Yogyakarta. Name Yogyakarta represents Ayodya, Lord Ram’s birth place. Over 700 languages/dialects are spoken throughout the archipelago by over 300 ethnic groups. Muslim majority country Indonesia is a republic and constitutionally it is not a Muslim country but religious, cultural and ethnic harmony (which is Hindu) is largely intact. Should not we promote social harmony in Nepal and not fuel religious tension and divide community?
Buddhist majority Thailand largely follows Hindu tradition and cultural practices, and people live in social and religious harmony. The King of Thailand, Bhumibol Adulyadje, known as King Rama IX as his predecessor kings of Chakra dynasty. His great-great-grand-father assumed name as King Rama (symbolizing Lord Vishnu), as a caretaker of the people of the kingdom, and the tradition continues to this day although king himself is a Buddhist. Hinduism’s influence in Thai tradition is everywhere even though prayers are offered to Lord Buddha. Isn’t there something to learn from this nation on tolerance, peace and harmony? Likewise, in Buddhist majority Sri Lanka, Hindu and Christian traditions are also observed, along with Buddhist practices, without disharmony.
Kedar Neupane is a retired senior United Nations official and president of ‘We for Nepal’ association based in Geneva, Switzerland. He has worked in several countries in Africa, the Middle East, Asia and Europe in his 38 years of service with the United Nations system. Email: Neupanek1950@gmail.com
This article originally appeared on Transcend Media Service (TMS) on 24 Aug 2015.
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