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Nepal's Christians, Hindus head for clash over burial ground

Wednesday April 06, 2011 03:38:28 PM, IANS

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On a relay hunger-strike in Kathmandu for 13 days, Nepal's enraged Christian community Monday gave a 48-hour ultimatum to the fledgling government of Prime Minister Jhala Nath Khanal: to give them a plot of land   »

Kathmandu: Nepal's burgeoning Christian community's demand for a burial ground seemed headed for a collision with the Hindus with the Supreme Court Wednesday deciding to resolve two separate suits together.

Judges Balaram KC and Bharat Bahadur Karki Monday said two separate petitions over a Christian cemetery - one filed by Christians and the other by a Hindu activist - would be resolved together Monday as they were co-related.

The decision could spark tension between the two communities who have so far been living in harmony.

The fresh development came after Christians, who say their number has crossed two million, began a public campaign, asking the government to give them a plot of land for an official cemetery.

Though Nepal, once the only Hindu kingdom in the world, became secular in 2006, Christians do not have any community burial ground yet and complain of harassment by locals when they try to bury their dead on personal property.

The problem became more acute this year after the trust managing Nepal's oldest Hindu temple, the hallowed Pashupatinath shrine in Kathmandu, began a demolition drive, razing the clandestine graves erected by Christians and other non-Hindus in an ancient forest adjoining the shrine.

The Pashupatinath Area Development Trust says the forest belongs to the temple and the "encroachment" by non-Hindus has hurt Hindu sentiments.

Christians began a relay hunger-strike in protest this month, warning they would dump the bodies of their dead in front of the prime minister's office if they were not allotted the cemetery land they are seeking.

On March 13, one of the organisers of the protest, C.B. Gahatraj, and a second Christian, Man Bahadur Thapa, finally moved the court, asking for a Supreme Court stay on the grave demolition drive till the dispute was resolved.

Their petition triggered a counter petition by Hindu activist Bharat Jangam.

On March 20, Jangam, who had earlier fought the Maoist and communist governments in court for trying to usurp the temple's authority and treasury, filed a counter-petition, saying the Shleshmantak forest - where Christians had been burying their dead - belonged to the Hindu temple and should not be encroached upon by non-Hindus.

Asked by the court to show cause, Nepal's government washed its hands of the row, saying the Pashupatinath Area Development Trust was an autonomous body and it was not responsible for the trust's decisions.

Responding to the explanation, the two judges Wednesday said the Christian and Hindu petitions would be decided together Monday.

The apex court decision came as a 48-hour ultimatum given by the Christians to the government ended.

"We are not concerned about Bharat Jangam's petition," Gahatraj told IANS. "We are asking the government for a plot of land, not him."

The Christian Burial Ground Prayer and National Struggle Committee that is spearheading the hunger-strike said its officials had been called to a meeting Wednesday to decide a new course of action.



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