Kirant, Christian communities rue lack of burial ground in capital
KATHMANDU, Feb 24: The members of Kirant community were barred from burying their dead family members and relatives in Shleshmantak forest of Pashupatinath area in January of 2011.
The ban on burial, which was suddenly imposed by Pashupati Area Development Trust (PADT), caused a hue and cry. Subsequently, people belonging to the Kirant community took to the streets, forcing then Prime Minister Madhav Kumar Nepal to form a taskforce to find a separate burial ground for the Kirant people.
However, more than two years after its formation, the taskforce is yet to find a place for the purpose. People belonging to the Kirant community continue to bury their dead ones in Sleshmantak jungle, evading the eyes of the PADT officials.
As the taskforce, which comprises of secretaries of several concerned ministries as members, delays in exploring a separate burial ground, the issue looks set to resurface any time in future.
PHOTO: RIWAJ RAI
The Hindus see Shleshmantak jungle as a holy place where lord Shiva. Therefore, they oppose the practice of burying, especially those belonging to non-Hindu communities, in Shleshmantak jungle.
The fact that Pashupatinath area has been listed by the UNESCO as one of world heritage sites of Nepal also provides ground for the PADAT officials to enforce the ban.
"Only dead people belonging to the sanyasi sect of Hindu religion, which comprises 10 castes like Giri and Puri, are allowed to be buried in Shleshmantak jungle," says Narottam Baidya, treasurer of the PADT. "We will not allow people belonging to other castes and communities to bury their dead ones in our holy jungle."
Although the PADT is against the idea of allowing burial for dead people of other castes and communities in Shlesmantak, it seems to have adopted a strategy to remain silent when the Kirant people bury their dead ones there.
"We do not give permission to the Kirant people to bury their dead ones," says Baidya. "But if they bury their people secretly, we cannot do anything." Perhaps, the delay by the government appointed taskforce in finding an alternative burial ground for the Kirant people has caused the PADT to be lenient.
PHOTO: RIWAJ RAI
As in 2011, the PADT had imposed a ban in 1998. Then, too, the government had assured that it would find an alternative burial ground for the Kirant people within three months. But the pledge was never fulfilled.
People belonging to the Christian community also used to bury their dead ones in Pashupati area. But the PADT has barred them as well.
With the capital fast developing into a metropolis, it is natural for people of various castes and communities to throng the Valley.
But among them who belong to a culture that does not allow cremation, are finding it difficult to lay their dead ones to rest.
"The lack of burial ground is becoming a very serious problem," says Divash Rai, general secretary of Kirant Rai Yayokkha, an umbrella organization of Kirant Rai people. "We need a huge area for a burial ground, which we cannot buy. So, the government should show us where we can cremate our people."
We are uniting all Kirant people to press govt Divash Rai
Kirant Rai Yayokkha
Has there been any progress in the search for an alternative to Shleshmantak jungle for burial of the members of Kirant community?
No, not at all. In the last couple of years, the government has formed two committees to find an alternative to Sleshmantak jungle. The committees could not propose a solution, therefore, the problem still persists.
What could be a solution to this problem?
Nothing but an alternative place. Pashupati Area Development Trust (PADT) will not allow us to bury our dead ones in Shleshmantak jungle in the days to come. But even if the PADT does not prevent us from burying our dead in Shleshmantak, we will not be able to use the land which is already running short of space for new graves. Therefore, we have to find an alternative at all cost.
Who is responsible for the delay in searching for an alternative?
It is obviously the government. The government has never been serious about solving this problem. Perhaps, the government wakes up only when the PADT forces Kirant people to take to the streets by preventing us from burying our dead ones in Shleshmantak jungle.
What is Yayokha doing to press the government to solve this problem at the earliest?
Yes, we are trying bring all Kirant communities together to exert pressure on the government on this issue. Previously, this issue was raised only by four Kirant communities namely Rai, Limbu, Sunuwar and Yakkha. Now, we are also persuading Surel, Jirel, Hayu, Thami, Baram and Dhimal communities to raise this issue to pile pressure on the government.
Why has it become important to have a burial ground for Kirant community in Kathmandu?
Kiranti people are worshippers of nature. We believe we should bury, not burn, our dead ones. As a significant number of Kirant people reside in Kathmandu these days, it would not be practical for all of them to take the dead bodies back to their villages for burial. So, we have to have a separate place for burying our dead people in the capital.
We do not want to hurt Hindu sentiment
Federation of National Christian Nepal
Where do the Christian people of the capital bury their dead ones?
We do not have a proper burial ground in the capital. Most of the people belonging to Christian community take their dead ones to their ancestral villages. Those who do not have any connection to their ancestral villages bury their dead ones somewhere along the banks of Trishuli River. Even outside the Kathmandu Valley we face difficulties in finding a place to bury our dead ones. This situation is very painful.
Since when has the Christian community been facing this problem?
History of Christianity in Nepal dates back to almost 400 years ago. Until a few years ago, we did not face serious problems in burying our dead ones. We had been burying our dead ones in Shleshmantak jungle of Pashupatinath area. Ironically, soon after Nepal became a secular country, Pashupati Aread Development Trust (PADT) did not allow us to bury our dead ones in Shleshmantak jungle.
Do you want the PADT to allow Christian people to bury their dead ones in the area, which a holy place of Hindu religion?
No, not at all. In fact, we do not want to use Shleshmantak jungle as our burial ground. In fact, even before the PADT barred us from burying our dead ones in Shleshmantak jungle, we had decided to seek an alternative.
Shleshmantak jungle is not only sacred for the Hindus but also a place listed by the UNESCO as a world heritage site. We do not want to hurt the sentiment of Hindus by burying our dead ones in the Pashupatinath area. But, at the same time, we expect the government to respect our rights. We need a separate place for burying our dead ones.
What could be a way out of this problem?
We must find a place where we can freely perform the final rites of our dead ones. In the past, the government reached several understandings with us promising to address this problem. But, none of the agreements have been followed through. Only this week, the government has formed a 16-member committee, led by former lawmaker Binod Pahadi, to seek solutions to the problem of burial ground for Christians. I hope the problem will be solved this time around.