KATHMANDU: Dopen spent more than 25 hours in police custody in March. His crime: He took part in a peaceful demonstration in the capital against alleged Chinese atrocities on Tibetans in the Tibet Autonomous Region.
Namgyal Lama was thrashed by the police while holding a rally to mark the Dalai Lama’s birthday. Both Dopen and Namgyal have been living in Nepal for the past eight years as Tibetan refugees. The duo claimed that Nepal had become unsafe for Tibetan refugees and asylum-seekers, whose population is pegged at 20,000.
As the government aggressively pursues the One China Policy, the Tibetans are facing the heat. There have been growing cases of harassment and extortion, more restrictions on their movements, a greater difficulty in securing education and jobs than ever before.
Extortion incidents are at an all-time high. Many Tibetans are either forced out of their business or had to cease professional activities. The US has pointed out to the Tibetan refugees’ plight, especially
accentuated during their peaceful demonstration.
The Annual Report on International Religious Freedom (IRF), released by the US Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labour, said that the Tibetan exiles faced various restrictions, including outright interference and often an intimidating police presence during their religious celebrations. The Tibetans are only allowed to celebrate their festivals indoors.
“The police had once seized the picture of the Dalai Lama during a celebration on the premises of a private property. The government mounted a campaign of steadily increasing intimidation against the Tibetans, successfully shutting down protest activities and
severely constraining even purely religious events,” stated the report.
The Tibetans’ protests in Nepal began in March, 2008, coinciding with the 50th anniversary of their uprising against the Chinese aggression in Lhasa, which continued till September last year. The authorities held 130 protesters, eventually releasing some of them and turning the rest over to the office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees.
The report stated that the Tibetans, who came to Nepal or were born after December 31, 1989, did not have legal status, and were therefore vulnerable to implicit threat of deportation. The most common cases of the violations are arbitrary arrest and preventive detention, excessive and unnecessary use of force, restriction of their movement, and unlawful threats to deportation.
During this interim period, the Tibetans routinely faced harassment and extortion by police and other authorities. The law prohibits proselytising, which is punishable by fines, imprisonment, or, for foreigners, expulsion.
Individual conversion is, however, allowed. Some Christian and Muslim bodies contended that the ban on conversion is limited to the expression of non-Hindu religious beliefs.
Minister for Constituent Assembly Affairs and Culture Dr Minendra Rijal said that the
Tibetan refugees were not a religious issue.
“It doesn’t matter what the IRF report highlights. The Tibetans’ cause has political overtones. Nepal doesn’t allow its soil to use against the neighbouring countries. The government treats the Tibetan movement accordingly,” said Dr Rijal. “On December 28, 2008, the Maoist-led government announced its decision to replace the Indian priests at Pashupatinath Temple, by appointing two Nepali priests. Locals and Bhandaris protested, demanding that the government revoke its decision. All activities were suspended at the shrine for two to three days due to the raging controversy,” stated the report.
Madrasas, and not mosques, are required to register with local district administration offices, which are a part of the Ministry of Home Affairs, and provide information about their source of funding.
Some Muslim leaders have criticised the policy as discriminatory. However, in practice, the registration clause was never enforced. The constitution prohibits discrimination on the basis of caste. However, rigid caste system strongly influences the society. The government has stressed that caste-based discrimination is illegal. Be that as it may, the access to temple for “lower castes” is still a contentious issue.
Caste discrimination is frequently practiced at Hindu shrines, where some priests
forbid Dalits’ rights to pray.
Societal discrimination against members of lower castes, including Dalits, is equally widespread.
Lower castes are being discriminated in education, employment and marriage, as per the report.
Meanwhile, the government plans to deploy 10,000-strong Armed Police Force personnel along the Sino-Nepal border to check the influx of the Tibetans. “Nepal respects the freedom of religion. But it cannot tolerate unlawful activities against its neighbours,” said Jaya Mukunda Khanal, spokesperson, Home Ministry. The Christians, too, are demanding religious freedom in the new secular Republic.
“We want religious freedom. This is our humble request to the Constituent Assembly members,” said Dr KB Rokaya, general secretary, National Council of Churches of Nepal. Rokaya, who is also a member of the National Human Rights Commission, urged all to show religious tolerance.
As per the government record, Hindus constitute 86.51 percent of the population. While, Buddhists account for 7.79 per cent, Muslims 3.53, and Christians and animists 2.17.