Religious minorities, marginalised people more vulnerable to humanitarian crisis


Religious minorities of Nepal who have been facing structural discrimination and exclusion are highly vulnerable in the times of crisis.

According to a research titled ‘Disaster Vulnerability and Religious Minorities in the Context of COVID-19 Pandemic’ conducted and promoted by the Asian Human Rights Commission and Nepal-based Samari Utthan Sewa, religious minorities are more vulnerable to the disasters such as the COVID pandemic.

They are susceptible to discrimination in terms of enjoying their basic rights in the times of disasters due to religious belief, discrimination, lack of education, poverty and lack of knowledge about their rights. The study had included 371 households, of which 128 were Hindu households in Chitwan, 122 from Christian households in Sarlahi and 121 from Muslim households in Morang on the basis of purposive sampling.

“Nepal has formulated laws and policies to manage natural and human-induced disasters, but those provisions do not address the concerns of religious minorities and other vulnerable groups.

The effects of power relations related to religious groups are evident in rescue, compensation and rehabilitation activities.

This has been apparent in the time of the COVID-19 pandemic as well,” reads the report released earlier this week. Since people from religious minority groups were not included in prevention and control of the coronavirus and identification of affected communities and distribution of compensation, religious minorities were seen to be excluded from such activities.

“Due to limited interaction with other religious communities, society’s attitude towards them and lack of infrastructure, religious minorities are in a more precarious position than others.

Their lack of access to media and the media’s bias against them has pushed them to a marginal position in society,” it added. Nepal is a secular state. Article 26 of the constitution has barred any kind of behaviour that is related to proselytisation or hampering the religion of other people.

The Criminal Code Act’s Section 157 also has a provision of a year of imprisonment and up to Rs 10,000 in fine if someone causes harm to the rituals of others. Section 158 of the code has a provision of up to five years in imprisonment and up to Rs 50,000 in fine. Foreign nationals doing this kind of behaviour are liable to be expelled from the country within a week after serving the sentence.

According to the report, the fundamental causes of vulnerability exert multi-dimensional pressures on religious minorities. The pressures include lack of information, limited access to media, limited knowledge on the risks of COVID-19 virus, lack of transparency among other stakeholders and the difficulties in livelihood. These pressures push religious minorities further towards insecurity.

It warned that the government policies and laws had failed in mainstreaming religious minorities in their disaster management programmes. In the times of COVID-19, many cases of human rights abuses from the state and nonstate actors against religious minorities have not come to light. Human rights activists and civil society members have not played effective roles to address these problems.

The report has suggested the authorities concerned and stakeholders to ensure the rights of religious minorities and marginalised people in the times of crisis; investigate the cases of discrimination against religious minorities during the pandemic and bring to book the guilty; work towards ensuring the participation of religious minorities in disaster management in all three tiers of government; allocate separate budgets to local governments for religious minorities; and organise sensitisation programmes to ensure protection of rights of religious minorities, among others.