By Mark H. Junayed, BosNewsLife Special Correspondent reporting from Nepal
KATHMANDU, NEPAL (BosNewsLife)— Christians in Nepal flock to prayer services after several church bombings, carried out by suspected Hindu militants, injured at least three people in recent days, church leaders told BosNewsLife.
In one of the latest incidents Monday, September 21, a bomb rocked the Jhapa District police station, wounding three police officers. Police said the device was originally planted at a local church in the Surunga area of the district’s Kankai Municipality-3.
It was being diffused at the police station when it suddenly exploded, police said. Those injured and rushed to a local hospital were identified as Sub-Inspector Dev Narayan Yadav, Head Constable Bharat Karki and Constable Kedar Poudel. Police had reportedly brought the bomb at the station following a tip-off by residents.
The incident came after September 14 bombings rocked church buildings in Nepal’s Jhapa district but miraculously did not injure worshipers, recalled Pastor N.D. Thulung in an interview with BosNewsLife.
He said his evangelical Joyti Church congregation, in the district’s Damak 10 area, was among those targeted by activists of the hardline Hindu Morcha Nepal party. “This attack happened because the Nepalese government supports a new constitution which declares Nepal as a secular country,” the pastor explained.
Kamal Thapa the president of the Rap Rapa Nepal party, seen as another hardline Hindu group, also wants Nepal to be a Hindu state. “Both of these parties are now attacking Christians in different [more violent] ways because they feel they are losing their struggle for a Hindu state because of spreading Christianity and Christian evangelism,” the pastor told BosNewsLife.
Thulung said the attacks against his church included a bomb exploding near a main window and a blast at the main gate of the church building. Surprisingly, the bombings did not scare people away from his services, he added. “By the grace of God in this Saturday we saw more people attending the regular church services.”
Yet it isn’t without danger. His church has received a threatening letter from Hindu Morcha Nepal which says it wants to remove Christianity from Nepal.
The Emmanuel Wesleyan Church in the nearby Khajurghachi-6 area in Jhapa was also targeted. “I still don’t know the exact reason behind this surprise attack,” complained Prety Chand Das, the pastor of the church. “One pillar of the Church building cracked because of the bombing, but nobody was injured his church.” Yet a neighbor is pressuring him to demolish this Church amid safety concerns, he told BosNewsLife.
The chuch blasts came less than 24 hours after the Constituent Assembly retained the country as a secular state and rejected an amendment to declare Nepal a Hindu nation. However political tensions remain, including Hindu pressure from neighboring India, noted Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW), a major advocacy group.
CSW expressed concern over reports that Bhagat Singh Koshiyari, the vice chairman of the Indian Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), called for a total legal ban on conversions from one faith to another in meetings with senior politicians from Nepal.
The Indian politician met senior leaders in Nepal, including Prime Minister Sushil Koirala and the chairman of the influential Maoist party, Pushpa Kamal Dahal in May and June, local media reported.
He reportedly asserted that religious conversion is an illegal and criminal offence, “which should be stopped immediately” and that Western countries “are assisting Nepal to convert Hindus to Christianity”.
The BJP claimed a decisive victory in India’s recent ballot, securing more than 50 percent of seats in the ‘Lok Sabha’, the lower house of Parliament.
The party has close ties with Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), a hardline group which views India as a Hindu nation and minority Christians and Muslims a threat to national integrity.
Nepal was the only official Hindu state in the world until 2006, when Parliament declared the nation to be a secular republic. The Constituent Assembly is currently drafting the new constitution, incorporating human rights essential for a fully democratic state. That framing of the constitution is governed by Nepal’s Treaties Act of 1991, which requires the nation’s laws to conform to international treaties it signed and ratified.
“However, there is pressure from some political parties to restore the Hindu monarchy,” including from powerful neighbor India CSW told BosNewsLife.
CSW’s Chief Executive Mervyn Thomas said, “Mr Koshiyari’s comments are of concern given that they appear to be an attempt to persuade Nepali leaders and political parties not to include freedom of religion or belief in the new constitution and laws of Nepal.”
He recalled that “the freedom to choose and change one’s faith is guaranteed in Article 18 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which Nepal has signed and ratified.”
Thomas said that the right “to change one’s religion or faith must be upheld as an essential part of any constitution which adheres to international human rights principles.”
CSW urged political and religious leaders in Nepal to ensure that the new Constitution and Penal Code “guarantee all citizens the right to express and share their beliefs, the right to choose and change their religion or belief, as well as the right not to believe in any religion,” he said.
The tensions emerge while the nation, known for its ancient culture and the Himalayas as a backdrop, remains one of the world’s poorest countries and is struggling to overcome the legacy of a 10-year Maoist insurrection.
The ongoing debate on a new constitution and related church bombings have added to concerns over a fragile peace in this country, where Maoist rebels once waged a decade-long campaign against the monarchy, leaving more than 12,000 people dead and 100,000 people displaced.
Until Nepal became a republic in May 2008 following historic elections, it had been ruled by monarchs or a ruling family for most of its modern history in relative isolation.
Church leaders still hope for a better future for Christians, who comprise just 1.4 percent of this heavily Hindu nation of 32 million.
(BosNewsLife’s Stefan J. Bos contributed to the story).