Religious row grows in Nepal as Hindus call closure
KATHMANDU WITH only three days left for a potential constitutional upheaval, Nepal’s beleaguered communist government now faces religious tension as well with Hindu groups shutting down midwestern Nepal on Wednesday as part of a twoday general strike.
The Vishwa Hindu Mahasangh (VHM), a Hindu group with close links to India’s militant Hindu organisations like the Vishwa Hindu Parishad and Shiva Sena, enforced the regional strike calling for the promulgation of a new constitution within the stipulated May 28 deadline, an end to cow slaughter and the prevention of conversion of Hindus into other religions.
The closure mainly targets Nepalgunj, the main town in Banke district near the Indian border, where police recently arrested two men for slaughtering cows and selling the meat.
The cow, besides being Nepal’s national animal, is also considered sacred by Hindus.
Though Nepal, once the only Hindu kingdom in the world, became a secular republic formally three years ago, the state ban on cow slaughter remains.
The indigenous communities have been campaigning to discard the cow as the republic’s national animal, saying it smacks of a pro- Hindu bias in a secular state.
Supported by seven other Hindu groups, the VHM has called a 48-hour closure in Nepalgunj to be followed by a countrywide general strike on Friday.
On Tuesday, another Hindu organisation had held a public veneration programme in Kathmandu valley, worshipping the cow and raising slogans against cow slaughter.
Nepalgunj has one of the largest Muslim populations in Nepal with a growing number of mosques and madrassas.
The muscle-flexing by the Hindu groups, which are also calling for the restoration of Hinduism as the state religion, has created deep unease among the Muslim community, a minority in the Hindu-majority republic.
In yet another alarming development for the religious minorities, police on Wednesday raided the Balaju area of the capital and impounded 1,000 tridents from the residence of a Hindu activist.
Trikal Shrestha, a leader of Shiv Sena Nepal, was also arrested.