KATHMANDU, Nepal—Described by some observers as a “21st century Magna Carta,” the sweeping political changes decreed yesterday by Nepal’s parliament are being met with prayerful caution by Gospel for Asia leaders in the region.
“To experience this historic change for this nation is truly an answer to prayers,” declared Narayan Sharma, Gospel for Asia’s national leader for Nepal. “For the last 10 years there has been no prayer meeting or worship service in our churches without specific prayer for the nation.”
“This is definitely welcome news,” said GFA President K.P. Yohannan. “It is the first time in the history of Nepal that there has been a democratic, secular government.”
If the changes passed by the parliament stand, they will indeed be a peaceful revolution for the mountain kingdom.
“May 18, 2006—the day a new Nepal was born,” declared the Nepali Times. It explained that Thursday was “the day the parliament restored by ‘people power’ declared itself supreme and decided to save the monarchy from a king who nearly took it down with him.”
In the new Nepal, decisions on royal succession and other palace matters will be made by the parliament’s State Affairs Committee. The parliament, taking power on the strength of recent massive street demonstrations, also passed laws to:
- Slash royal allowances
- Tax royal income
- Allow court trial of royal family members in court in criminal cases
- Strip the king’s command of the army
- Replace the royal household with civil servants
- Declare Nepal a secular state instead of “the world’s only Hindu kingdom”
It is this last provision that is of most interest to Nepal’s long-oppressed Christian minority.
“We have to wait and see what that means as far as religious freedom is concerned,” Dr. Yohannan cautioned. “With India being so close, there is the possibility of religious fundamentalism being adopted in Nepal as it is in India today.”
“Secularism does not guarantee full freedom of religion,” agreed Sharma. “Rather, this could create hatred and tension among various religious groups in Nepal and may harm [Christians] in a greater way.
“We still need to see how the government drafts the law concerning the secular state. It is sure that there will be restrictions and limitations.”
Sharma also cautioned that it would still be possible for the situation to change again, with a return of the “Only Hindu Kingdom” label—and greater persecution.
The other major issue to be settled is the 10-year war with the Maoists, who have appealed to the Dalits and other lower castes for support in their efforts to unseat the king and establish a communist state.
“For last 10 years, we have seen the Maoists rise up against the king’s absolute rule, and according to their statistics, 14,000 people have died in the decade-long people’s war with Royal Nepal Army,” Sharma noted.
The challenges ahead include halting the violence, launching a peace process, stopping rebel extortion, and integrating the Maoists in the government and military.
On the same day that the parliament took power from the king, one Maoist leader declared that his party should be allowed to lead the interim government. A member of the Communist Party of Nepal-Maoists, Matrika Yadav made the statement after meeting with party leaders in India.
Regardless of who leads the government, GFA leaders urged Christians to both pray and take action while a window of peace is open.
“The challenge before us is to use the time so that people may hear the salvation message of Jesus Christ without any fear,” Sharma said.
He noted that GFA Radio is broadcasting the Gospel on stations across the country, including the government’s Radio Nepal.
“We are seeing a vast change in the attitude by the government toward Christians,” he said. “We believe our radio programs are bringing the right message at the right time to honor and propagate the love of Christ.”
He also pointed to the growing number of GFA primary schools as a major avenue of outreach to Nepal’s people, especially the Dalits.
“This is a time not just to thank God but also to move on,” Sharma declared. “The Lord has heard our prayers, and we are thankful for our prayer supporters holding this nation in prayer for the last difficult 10 years of conflict.”