After spirited protests by Christians, Nepal authorities have finally conceded to their demand for a Christian cemetery amid a Hindu culture of cremation.
"We are happy," said Chari Bahadur Gahatraj, a leading pastor and secretary of the Christian Advisory Committee for a New Constitution, which led the protests. "We are now waiting to know the four corners of the burial land."
Gahatraj said the government ministries of culture and interior affairs have created a committee to identify land for a Christian cemetery in the crowded capital of Kathmandu. Another committee will study the feasibility of allocating land for Christian cemeteries in all of the Himalayan nation's 75 districts.
"It is a big victory for us," said pastor Gahatraj. "Our protests have borne fruit."
Months of Christian protests in Kathmandu, which included a parade of coffins and a chain fast, 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 prevented further burials.
Kathmandu lacks cemeteries because Hindus and most Buddhists in Nepal customarily cremate the dead. Christians prefer burial, but land is expensive.
The National Christian Council of Nepal opposed the campaign for burial land. "We want the government to be secular, [so] how could we demand land from the government?" said council president Kala Bahadur Rokaya. "Christians have their own land, but the problem is that there is strong objection [by neighboring Hindus] to burying the dead [there]. So Christians should fight for their rights and full religious freedom."
Father Pius Perumana, pro vicar of the Catholic Vicariate of Nepal, agreed that the main challenge is "to get the consent of the local Hindus" for a Christian cemetery, citing instances of dead Christian bodies being dug out by Hindus even when buried on property owned by Christians. Creating a Christian cemetery, he said, "is easier said than done."
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