It has been almost 14 years since Nepal became a secular state but discussions on the country’s secular status have not stopped. This time, Rabindra Mishra, president of Bibeksheel Sajha Party, which was widely hailed as an ‘alternative force’ in Nepali politics, has formally proposed a referendum on secularism. Pratik Ghimire of ApEx talked to 10 public intellectuals on this rather controversial issue.
Abdus Miya, Bibeksheel Sajha Party
Gauging by the level of public support for Mishra’s political proposal, you can easily assume that a sizable number of people are disappointed with the country’s secular status. Restoration of the Hindu state does not mean establishing a theocracy. It is only honoring the feelings of the majority. A referendum would be an ideal way to settle this issue, one way or the other.
Tell me, can there ever be sustainable peace in the country by ignoring public demand? I support secularism, yet I think the public should be allowed to decide.
Chandika Timalsina, Bibeksheel Sajha Party
This is the time to update the 2015 constitution, but a referendum on secularism is uncalled for. This is not a good idea as it will fragment the society and potentially lead to communal violence. Secularism has helped minorities come forward and speak up. If a state embraces a single religion, people-to-people relations will be severely affected.
Instead of discussing political ideologies, political leaders are creating controversy about religions and taking the country towards conflict. The country cannot be pushed back decades.
Ghanshyam Khatiwada, Executive Director, Pashupati Area Development Trust
Hindu philosophy directs us towards wellbeing, a healthy lifestyle, and spiritual development. Nepal is a place where we can find Hindu temples at every step. It is thus uneasy for us to accept Nepal as a secular state.
I accept that there were a few problems in our religious practices but now we have solved them. Hinduism respects everyone and is the focal point to unite all religions. From ancient times, the world has known Nepal as a Hindu state and the majority want its restoration—we should not let this spirit die.
JB Biswokarma, Writer and researcher
Anyone is free to ask for a referendum on any issue. But on a sensitive one like this, the vote does not matter. The main objective of secularism is to allow citizens to choose their own religion and treat every religion equally, regardless of the number of its followers. Nepal is a secular country yet minorities feel that the Hindus still dominate every aspect of life.
When the follower of every religion has an equal right, why bring up this controversial issue again? Let’s respect each other because we are equal. How will a Buddhist person feel if someone tells him,“You live in a Hindu state?” This is a disgrace and an open call for rioting. We should not take this path—never.
Manavi Paudel, Newspaper columnist
How can you call yourself a ‘social activist’ if you bar others from expressing their opinion? How can you become a member of ‘civil society’ when you are the reason for social conflict? We are in a democracy and we are all free to imagine our country as we see fit. The people should decide whether they want a secular or a Hindu state.
Democracy can’t be defined according to the will of so-called progressive people. Understanding people’s opinions is the proper way to celebrate democracy. But frankly, I care little about a secular or a Hindu state. What I think is that federalism needs to be reconsidered.
Nirga Nabin, Political activist
The state doesn’t have a religion and no one should try to force the inclusion of a particular religion in the constitution. Religion is based on individualist beliefs. For this reason, we should preserve secularism. The current issue of Hindu state is nothing new. It has come up now because of the influence of ultra-Hinduist Narendra Modi.
A state should be governed by modern and scientific modalities, not a certain religious mindset. I think political ideology should be religion-free. Else, you are only performing a stunt to get votes as you don’t have a strong political agenda. No one can achieve progress through ideas like these.
KB Rokaya, President, Nepal Intellectuals’ Forum
Nepal is a country established by monarchs and Nepal Army, so we should not forget our origin. What the predecessor sets, the successor must follow. I am a Christian pastor but I never felt the Hindu state ever stopped us from performing any religious task. They rather helped us in establishing our church, schools, and organizations.
Above all, we are Nepalis and amid the geopolitical tensions and other risk factors, our patriotic spirit can be preserved only with the restoration of Hindu state. Most Nepalis think the same, whether they are Buddhists, Muslims, or Kirats. Referendum is a must, there is no other option.
Rita Pariyar, Civil society member
We should not give religion-related stuff such high priority. Having come this far, we should be thinking of progressing further. Instead, we are thinking of going back to the Hindu state.
Definitely not! Our recent achievements are the result of countless struggles. If the minorities are not cared for, where should they go? If the Hindu state is restored, other religions, like before, would again have to live under suppression.
I hear the advocates of Hinduism say that no one was unhappy when Nepal was a Hindu state. But who are they to say so? Elites will never understand the pain of the suppressed groups. When the minorities are quiet, people think there is peace and harmony in society, but when they raise their voice, Hindus try to shut them down.
Trailokya Raj Aryal, Writer
The practice of liberal Hinduism is what makes us Nepalis. Prithivi Narayan Shah had brought Muslims to repair his arms and ammunition. Till today Nepal Army has assured their jobs. Ali Miya of Pokhara had received Pragya Puraskar. Christians established schools in the 1950s.
Hindus worship Lord Buddha and vice-versa. Then where is the discrimination? Nepal is not a caste-based society. It has instead become a class-based society and discrimination is our reality. We can’t abolish it politically or at gunpoint. Society will revise itself slowly over time.
Lawmakers promulgated the constitution enshrining secularism during the crisis of the 2015 earthquake. Secularism doesn’t respect the feelings of Nepalis. To restore harmony, a referendum is a must.
Tula Narayan Shah, Political analyst
Ten years of Maoist insurgency and the 2006 people’s movement were the turning points in Nepali political history. The idea of a secular state was born out of these movements. Today, if someone wants the Hindu state restored, it is undoubtedly a regressive idea, and it will be against the norms and values of the second people’s movement.
What I think is, this issue was hyped because the proposal-maker, who is supposed to be the harbinger of alternative politics, has an enormous fan-base. Else, these kinds of issues don’t make sense. We should also not consider them seriously.