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Nepal President’s visit to holy shrine: A dilemma for the secular state

What the president faced there was reminiscent of the treatment the orthodox Hindus of Kashi had meted out to Jagjivan Ram, in 1977 when he inaugurated a ceremony at the Sampurnananda Sanskrit University there.

Written by Yubaraj Ghimire | Kathmandu |
Updated: December 21, 2015 5:30:22 pm
Nepal, Nepal President, Bidhya Devi Bhandari, Ram Janaki Bibah Mahotsab, United Madhesi Front, explained news, beyond the news President Bidhya Devi Bhandari, Nepal’s first female incumbent

How much freedom does a head of state enjoy in matters of personal religion or faith in a secular country?

President Bidhya Devi Bhandari, Nepal’s first female incumbent, participated in the ‘Ram Janaki Bibah Mahotsab’- an annual religious-cum-cultural ceremony in Janakpur, the ancient capital of Mithila – to commemorate the anniversary of Ram and Sita last Wednesday. For the visit, she enjoyed state security, travelled at state expense, in company of the Army Chief.

While supporters of United Madhesi Front threw stones and petrol bombs at her cavalcade, with security forces retaliating, orthodox Hindus, called the visit of a ‘Widow’ to their shrine an act of ‘sacrilege’ and ‘purified ‘ it by washing it with ‘sacred ‘ water from the near by Ganga Sagar pond.

What the president faced there was reminiscent of the treatment the orthodox Hindus of Kashi had meted out to Jagjivan Ram, in 1977 when he inaugurated a ceremony at the Sampurnananda Sanskrit University there.

What is new in Nepal, a secular state for the past nine years, is the growing cult of intolerance, something that was not there previously. As prime minister, Madhav Kumar Nepal had prevented former King Gyanendra Shah from visiting the temple of Kumari, widely regarded as living Goddess, four years ago, even going as far as to warn him that he would be put behind bars if he defied his request.

Incidentally, Bhandari and Madhav Nepal belong to the same party–the Communist Party of Nepal-Unified Marxist Leninist–that now heads the coalition government.

Now, the government has decided to look into all aspects of the the President’s visit to the shrine, including a security lapse, if any, but whether the government will define certain norms for such visits by the head of the state or any other dignitaries, is still not clear.

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