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In unprecedented protests by Nepal's small Christian community, dozens formed a month-long chain fast demanding government allocation of land to bury their dead.

"We will continue the struggle until our demand is met," said Sundar Thapa, president of the Christian Advisory Committee for a New Constitution, which led the protests. "We are not asking for bread or jobs. At least our dead should have the right to have a dignified burial."

The protests in Kathmandu, which included a parade of coffins and the threat to parade dead bodies next, came after officials began strictly enforcing a ban on the longtime practice of Christian burials in the hills near the famous Pashupatinath Temple, one of Hinduism's most sacred shrines, in December. The nation's Supreme Court lifted the ban in March while the government explored solutions, but temple authorities have prevented further burials. The court has pledged to decide between competing Christian and Hindu lawsuits over a Christian cemetery on Monday.

Kathmandu lacks cemeteries because Hindus and most Buddhists in Nepal customarily cremate the dead. Christians prefer burial, but land is expensive in the crowded capital.

K. B. Rokaya, founder and president of the National Christian Council of Nepal, said Christians have attempted to resolve this "major challenge" by buying private land for burial, yet "they face obstruction and harassment from the local people to bury their dead in these lands."

"Our people have been trying to bury the dead wherever they could as we have no cemeteries, but Hindus would throw out the bodies if they find out," said Thapa, also general secretary of the Evangelical Christian Fellowship of Nepal. The protests are a "struggle for Christian identity" and "symbolize ...

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April 2011

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