Nepal, which until recently proclaimed itself the world’s only official Hindu kingdom, has proclaimed itself a “secular state” with equal rights for all its citizens.
According to the Religion News Service, the decision was announced May 18 by the country’s reconvened parliament following prolonged pro-democracy protest rallies and has been welcomed by several religious leaders.
Since February 2005, when King Gyanendra engineered a military-backed coup, the Royal Nepal Army had been the de facto administrator of the country, with control over the police force and central bureaucracy. In April, however, pro-democracy movements finally forced the king to reconvene the parliament he had earlier dissolved.
The reconvened parliament issued a proclamation ending the absolute power of the monarchy and also declaring Nepal a secular state. Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala said the move would protect the rights of the nation’s minorities.
Roman Catholics throughout Nepal offered prayers of thanksgiving at weekend masses, and Buddhist, Christian and tribal groups also welcomed the country’s new secular status.
Robert Gurung, a member of the Good Hope Pentecostal Church, said the decision was “revolutionary and democratic. It will ensure justice among the different religious, cultural and linguistic minorities in the country.”
Pasang Sherpa, secretary-general of the Confederation of Indigenous and Ethnic Groups of Nepal, said: “With this declaration, the nation has moved towards ensuring social justice and harmony. In a democracy, minorities cannot be marginalized. Nepal is starting a new chapter now.”
Kesab Adhikari, a senior teacher in a school within Nepal’s holiest Hindu temple complex of Pasupathinath, expressed anguish over the declaration. “If we ran a referendum, 80 percent would still be for calling Nepal a Hindu state,” he said.