Christians in the now-secular state of Nepal, which until nearly a decade ago was the world’s only Hindu kingdom, are protesting the government’s decision to drop Christmas from the list of recognized holidays.
A petition protesting the decision drafted by a group of Christian leaders in Nepal will be delivered soon to Prime Minister K.P. Sharma and Home Affairs Minister Shakti Basnet, according to Barnabas Aid, a British-based advocate for persecuted Christians worldwide.
Basnet has argued the decision to eliminate Christmas was made “not to hurt Christians but to control the rising number of public holidays.”
Nepal, situated between China and India, is home to the world’s highest peaks, and its population lives mostly in the valleys between. It became a secular state in 2008, but there has been pressure ever since for it to return to recognition of Hinduism as the official religion.
Paul Marshall, Lela Gilbert and Nina Shea have collaborated to create “Persecuted: The Global Assault on Christians,” which confirms that the likes of Pew Research, Newsweek and The Economist also regard Christians as “the world’s most widely persecuted religious group.”
Barnabas Aid said the Christians are protesting because they believe the law is “part of a determined effort to suppress their rights.”
“Christmas Day has been celebrated with a public holiday ever since Nepal become a secular state in 2008,” Barnabas Aid said. “In recent years, the warmth and openness generated by the day has led to people from other faiths joining in with the celebrations. Last year, the Christmas season also provided a welcome source of hope and excitement following the earthquake and the recent economic struggles caused by India’s embargo on food and fuel exports.”
While government officials said they still would allow Christians to “take leave” on Christmas Day, the Christian leaders say that’s not enough.
Rev. C B Gahatraj, secretary general of the National Federation of Christians, said Christians “do not just work for the government.”
“If Christmas is not a national holiday, the workers of the private sector will not be able to celebrate it,” he said.
He pointed out that the government recognizes 83 festivities for Hindus and other communities but none for Christians.
“The Christian community also has the support of the Inter-religious Council Nepal, together with other interfaith groups and activist organizations,” Barnabas Aid said.
The organization said the move follows a recently proposed change in the nation’s criminal laws, which was originated by “a group of pro-Hindu parliamentarians.”
It includes an article banning all conversion activity, Barnabas Aid said.
“Failure to adhere to the code will result in a five-year imprisonment (foreigners included), whilst nationals are additionally served with a fine of fifty thousand rupees,” the report said.
The proposed Article 156 states: “No one should involve or encourage in conversion of religion. … No one should convert a person from one religion, to another religion or profess their own religion and belief with similar intention by using or not using any means of attraction, and by disturbing religion or belief of any ethnic groups or community that has been practiced since ancient times.”
The changes in the law already have prompted criticism from the Religious Liberty Forum, Nepalese Christian Society and the United Nations.
Barnabas Aid said its projects in Nepal include student ministry and leadership training as well as emergency aid and the rebuilding of 30 churches damaged in an April 2015 earthquake.
Paul Marshall, Lela Gilbert and Nina Shea have collaborated to create “Persecuted: The Global Assault on Christians,” which confirms that groups like Pew Research, Newsweek and The Economist also identify Christians as “the world’s most widely persecuted religious group.”