As if tormenting Madeshis and Janajatis did not satisfy it enough, the Oli government decided to antagonize the Christians by deleting Christmas from its list of national holidays. The Ministry of Home Affairs from now on will regard December 25 as “leave to only Christian civil servants” (Himalayan Times, April 3).
School on Christmas day!
On May 19, 2006, the restored parliament (previously dissolved by King Gyanendra) declared Nepal a secular state. December 28, 2007 turned Nepal into a republic. On the next day, December 29, Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala’s government declared Christmas a national holiday. The announcement came too late that year because Christmas had already gone. But, the next year created history for the Nepali church.
In 2008 for the first time Christian workers didn’t have to request leave from their offices to celebrate December 25th. It had become a national holiday for all Nepalis. Christian students didn’t write exams or go to schools that day as they did during previous years. They could join their parents for the Christmas celebrations. The President, Dr Ram Baran Yadav, graced the Christmas gathering at the Academy Hall, Kamaladi. His presence gave pride to the Christian community.
Now, all that has changed. Although the government will give leave to Christian civil servants, their children will have to go to school on December 25. Even worse, some schools may conduct exams on that day so that Christian children will not sense the joy of the occasion. Besides, parents who know that their children are writing exams can hardly celebrate Christmas.
Betrayal by Communist parties
During the 2008 Constituent Assembly election, most Christians voted for the Maoists because they expected the battle-hardened comrades to do something positive for the country. The Maoists became the largest party, and Chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal even led the country as prime minister for nine months. When Dahal resigned because the President thwarted his plan to take over the Nepal army, this party too lost its shine. During the 2013 Constituent Assembly election, the UCPN (Maoist) stood third! Most Christians then voted for other parties.
According to the 2011 census, 1.4 % of Nepali Christians reside among the total population of 26,494,504. This makes the number of Christians 3,70,923 officially; but most believe that Christians exceed 10,00,000. Even if half of the latter number can vote, any political party can benefit with five lakhs of assured ballots in its favour.
Christians remember with gratitude that the late Girija Prasad Koirala’s government declared Christmas a national holiday. Now, a coalition of UCPN (Maoist), CPN-UML, RPP (Nepal), and some smaller parties rule the country. Christians will never vote for RPP (Nepal) because its chairman Kamal Thapa always pours out venom against the Nepali church in and out of the parliament. However, UCPN (Maoist) and CPN-UML have run out of favour as well because Prime Minister Oli belongs to the latter and Home Minister Shakti Basnet to the former. Will any Christian vote for UCPN (Maoist) or CPN-UML in the next election? Hardly! Most likely, all Christian votes will drop for the late Girija Prasad Koirala’s party, the Nepali Congress. Why? Girija’s government declared December 25 a national holiday, and a Nepali Congress government could restore Christmas to the Nepali church.
Why should the government deny Nepali Christians their basic human right to one holiday which celebrates their Saviour’s birth? Looking at the calendar, one notes that other religious groups’ holidays, even extending to half a week, have remain intact. The government has decided to provoke Christians because they do not burn tires, call Nepal “bandhs”, or advocate violence. However, Christians can protest peacefully; and internationalize the issue. These can hurt the government even more. While the 2015 constitution of Nepal comes under criticism internationally because it discriminates against minorities, the issue of the “stolen” Christmas will add to the government’s embarrassment.
On April 2, the Federation of National Christians Nepal (FNCN), issued a statement: “The government’s decision, which ridicules basic norms of democracy and secularity and hurts the sentiments of minority religious groups, has drawn our serious attention.” The release further added, “The government is trying to curtail the religious rights and freedom of minority religious groups. The twisted definition of secularism provided in the new constitution is also a testimony to this. The decision to limit Christmas holiday only to civil servants has dealt a serious blow to Nepali Christians”. The FNCN has appealed to the Nepali church at home and abroad to oppose the government’s move. It has asked the government to reinstate Christmas as a national holiday as soon as possible or face stern protest.
In 1985, the former President of the USA, Jimmy Carter, met the late king Birendra to appeal on behalf of Nepali Christians in jail. The Nepali press did its best to twist what Carter had said but the Indian papers like the Statesman (November 1, 1985) told the truth and caused a great deal of embarrassment to the Panchayat government. In April 1990, British MP David Atkinson came in person to ask Prime Minister Krishna Prasad Bhattarai to release 60 Nepali Christians from jail. KP Oli’s government should restore Christmas to its national-holiday status before the issue gains further international notoriety.
(The Kathmandu Post changed the name of this article to “Minority Report”, and published an edited version on May 17, 2016. Please see http://kathmandupost.ekantipur.com/news/2016-05-17/minority-report.html Here, I have given the original article. Ramesh Khatry, May 22, 2016.)