It’s become nationally and internationally established: Christian missionaries in Nepal are converting, sometimes by force, innocent people from rural hills and plains by offering them all kinds of inducements—promise of deliverance, fear and even money. In August, 2017, the British newspaper The Guardian reported how dalits in Makawanpur district are being converted by “well-funded foreign missionaries.” We in Republica have uncovered a number of such stories and have raised voice against forceful conversion. Yet, conversion spree has not stopped and its consequences have been most recently noticed in Dang, the western district of Nepal where conversion rate is said to be higher than elsewhere. Our report shows that forceful attempts to convert locals into Christianity have intensified over the past decade in the district and it has badly affected family lives of people. Ganga Khadka of Lamahi Municipality is a case in point.
A woman, a Christian convert and a foreigner who accompanied her, came and urinated on the patio of Khadka’s house to “purify” the house of Khadka, a Hindu. The missionaries first had her daughter-in-law convert, who then demanded her husband to follow suit. When he declined, he was hit by his wife and had to undergo treatment at the hospital. Then he felt forced to convert. It has cost a lot to Ganga’s family. Ganga does not like to live with her Christian son and she is fending for herself at old age. There are instances of locals being forcefully taken to the churches, and missionaries approaching community schools to convert young students. Teachers complain of how this has distracted students from studies. The victims are invariably poor and dalits and missionaries are using various techniques to lure them. This is a deeply disturbing phenomenon and it must be checked.
The rate of conversion has alarmingly increased after the country went secular in 2008. The 2011 census shows there are 375,000 Christians in Nepal, but various estimates show their number is somewhere between 1.2 and 1.5 million. The World Christian Database, for example, claims that Nepal is one of the countries with the fastest-growing Christian population in the world. Nepal is a country with religious freedom granted to the people by law. The constitution has granted people the right to profess their faith. Article 26 of the constitution says each person shall be free to profess, practice, and preserve their religion according to their faith. But it has banned forceful conversion. It has categorically stated that “no person shall convert a person of one religion to another religion, or disturb the religion of other people” and “such act shall be punishable by law.” What is happening in Dang and other parts of the country is illegal. Poverty has been cited as one of the reasons innocent people fall into conversion trap. Government should bring a long-term program to address this. On their part, the missionaries should immediately stop forceful conversion. People are free to choose their faith in secular state but it should not be forced on them. Forceful conversion is not only against the law, but also defames the faith practiced by over two billion people worldwide.