Nepal’s Christians, Muslims slam draft constitution

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SHAFAQNA - Nepali Christian and Muslim leaders have protested a draft of a long-delayed republican constitution for failing to honor pledges made by previous governments to protect their reights.

Lawmakers of the quake-devastated country are giving the final touches to the draft of the constitution expected to settle a long-running political dispute in Nepal, which emerged from a 10-year Maoist insurgency in 2006.

In 2008, Nepal’s lawmakers voted to end a 240-year old monarchy and become a republic, but politicians could not settle political differences over how to divide the country and address grievances of ethnic and marginalized groups, until two deadly earthquakes in April and May propelled them into finally finishing the post-war charter.

Nepal’s religious minorities have however been concerned that their interests might be sidelined in the suddenly rushed process.

“We want secularism to be institutionalized in such a way that it is an unchangeable provision in the new constitution. We want the constitution to ensure religious rights and form a religious commission,” said C. B. Gahatraj, General Secretary of the National Federation of Christians.

Syed Nehal Shah, president of National Muslim Forum, Nepal told Shafaqna that they also want the constitution to safeguard Muslim practices by recognizing Muslim family law.

“Nepal’s laws are guided by Hindu religion which we are not comfortable with,” Shah said. “We have our own laws when it comes to marriage and divorce that are different from Nepali laws. We want to be guided by our own religious rules.”

Mohna Ansari, a commissioner and spokesperson of the National Human Rights Commission, echoed the Christian leader saying the provision of secularism must be included in the preamble of the constitution.

“This will send a message to the religious minority Muslim community that we are safe. This will also ensure that the Nepali state is neutral as far as religion is concerned,” she said.

“Muslims should be entitled to proportional representation in all state institutions,” she said, pointing out the flaws in the draft which exempts the Election Commission and Women’s Commission from being inclusive.

Officially, there are at least a million Muslims in Nepal and 300,000 Christians, though Christian groups say the population could be as much as 2.5 million.

Meanwhile, Nepal’s pro-Hindu Rastriya Prajatantra Party-Nepal, the fourth largest party in the parliament, said it is organizing a protest rally in Kathmandu on Tuesday demanding that the constitution declare Nepal a Hindu nation.

Over the weekend some of the party’s lawmakers protested in parliament against the provision of secularism in the draft of the constitution.

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