Thursday, April 7, 2011

Hindu, Christian tug-of-war over Nepal’s Pashupatinath temple intensifies

Hindu, Christian tug-of-war over Nepal’s Pashupatinath temple intensifies: "Kathmandu (Nepal): Nepal's oldest temple, the Pashupatinath shrine revered by Hindus worldwide, is in the eye of a new storm as Christians and Hindus fight it out in court over an ancient forest that belongs to the hallowed shrine.

The Supreme Court said on Wednesday it would give its verdict on two separate writ petitions filed separately by a Hindu activist and Christians on April 12. Judges Balaram KC and Bharat Bahadur Karki made the announcement after Nepal's Christians, who are on a relay hunger strike for the 15th day demanding the government give them land to build an official cemetery for the community, finally went to court, triggering a retaliation by a Hindu activist.

On March 13, Chari Bahadur Gahatraj, a Protestant pastor and an influential member of the community, filed a writ with fellow Christian Man Bahadur Khatri, asking the apex court to halt the Pashupatinath Area Development Trust that runs the temple, from demolishing the hundreds of Christian graves scattered in the Shleshmantak forest adjoining the temple complex.

The two petitioners said Christians were allowed in the past to bury their dead in the forest and should be allowed to continue the practice till they were given a separate plot of land by the government. When Judge Awadhesh Kumar Yadav ordered the government not to create any obstruction to Christian burials in the forest till the row was resolved, Hindu activist Bharat Jangam filed a counter petition, saying non-Hindus should not be allowed to encroach on Hindu land.

"The forest is considered sacred by Hindus and is used by them to make offerings to their ancestors," Jangam told TNN. "Hundreds of ancient Hindu sages are buried there. If the Christians want a burial land, they should go to the government, not encroach on the land of a Hindu shrine that is also a Unesco-declared World Heritage site."

When the Christian protests demanding a cemetery started in January, they had not been tinged with communal hues. However, the court's decision to resolve the two petitions together could change all that. Even the Christian community has become divided over the graveyard demand.

The minuscule Catholic community has distanced itself from the protests, saying they had no objection to cremation, which was being followed even in the west. Nepal's first Catholic bishop Anthony Sharma said Nepal being a tiny country, land was at a premium. When the living themselves did not have adequate land, there could be no objection to cremating the dead.