Christian population shoots up under secular state

Published On: December 9, 2016 07:54 AM NPT By: Ram Saran Tamang

KATHMANDU, Dec 9: The Christian population has increased rapidly after Nepal was declared secular state in 2007. The National Population and Housing Census conducted by the Central Bureau of Statistics had recorded the Christian population at just 375,699 in 2011. 

But the number has jumped to about three million in the past five years, according to one leader of the Christian community.

While no Christians were recorded in the government census of 1951, their population was counted at 458 in the 1961 census. Likewise, the 2001 census recorded the number of Christians at 102,000. This number tripled in the next census a decade later.

Leaders of the Christian community said despite the rapid increase in their numbers, they were not properly recorded in the national census. “The government census of the Christian population does not reflect our actual numbers. It is an attempt to suppress us,” said CB Gahatraj, chairman of the Federation of National Christians Nepal (FNCN).

FNCN claims the number of churches in the country to be at around 10,000, out of which about 2,000 are in the three districts of Kathmandu Valley.

Sociologist Krishna Bhattachan, a retired  Tribhuvan University professor, said weekly gatherings of Christian communities have played a big role in the expansion of the religion in Nepal.

“Such gatherings once a week provide emotional and psychological support, making them feel they belong to a group, which is one of the social needs of human beings,” he said, adding, “And compared to other religions, Christians are more involved in social work, such as opening schools and hospitals. This has also attracted locals towards this religion.”

Short and practical rituals, according to Bhattachan, have lured more people to Christianity. “Majority of the poor people cannot afford the expensive rituals of Hindus. Hence, they choose to convert for  economic reasons as well.”

Bhattachan also claimed that the Hindu population had been over-represented and other religions under-represented in the country’s census in order to maintain Nepal as a Hindu kingdom.

“Although the 2011 census put the Hindu population at 81.3 percent, it is very likely that this projection was based on bias instead of the actual scenario,” claimed Bhattachan, who now works as an indigenous expert at the Lawyers’ Association for Human Rights of Nepalese Indigenous Peoples.

FNCN’s General Secretary Padam Nath Parajuli, who is also the main pastor at Bhaisepati Church in the capital, said another main reason for the under-representation of the Christian population in the census is the influence of Hindu monarchs, who are considered incarnations of Lord Bishnu, one of the deities of the Hindu trinity.

“There were lots of underground Christians before the end of the monarchial system and the interim constitution declared the country a secular state in 2007. They couldn’t openly introduce themselves as Christians due to social stigma and fear of being prosecuted for converting to the new religion,” said Parajuli, adding that many Christians are still not able to own their religion publicly.

Although the new constitution ensured freedom of religion, Article 26 (3) of the statute has defined forced conversion as a “punishable act”. FNCN, the umbrella body of Christians, has been demanding that this provision be revised, stating that it gives continuity to inequality and legal persecution to the Christian minority.

Cases of people being cajoled into conversion are often reported indicating that this also plays a big role in the recent increase in the Christian population.

The District Administration Office Dolakha arrested seven persons including two school principals in June for trying to convert people through dubious means. They were found preaching Christianity to over 900 children. All those arrested were released on Wednesday.

FNCN Chair Gahatraj said they do not accepted incorrect data produced by the government and added that they are working to conduct their own survey to get an ‘accurate number’ of Christian followers in the country by next year.

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