Nepal’s religious leaders urge harmonyInterfaith collective blames social media for disturbing tradition of peaceful coexistence
Nepal’s religious leaders this week have expressed concern about the weaponisation of social media by religious extremists to disrupt Nepal’s social harmony.
Members of Nepal’s diverse religious groups gathered under the auspices of the National Inter-Religious Network (NIRN)-Nepal to celebrate World Interfaith Harmony Week on 3 February in Kathmandu.
Most speakers underlined the need for greater media literacy among the public so that people are aware of how social networking platforms can be misused to “spread unrestrained intolerance and bigotry and sow discord between various faiths”. They urged grassroots mobilisation of citizens to maintain social harmony.
Religious leaders also expressed concern over the criminal activities of those claiming to be religious leaders. “Those who commit crimes cannot be called religious leaders,” said Damodar Gautam, Chair of National Inter-Religious Council (NIRC) Nepal. “Faith leaders have to earn that designation through proper conduct, decent behaviour and promotion of inter-faith tolerance.”
The World Interfaith Harmony Week has been celebrated during the first week of February since King Abdullah II of Jordan put forward a proposal before the United Nations in 2010 to celebrate the coexistence of religions worldwide.
NIRN Nepal was established in 2008 and now extends to 30 districts and 46 local levels countrywide. Leaders from Nepal’s Hindu, Buddhist, Islam, Kirat, Christian, Jain, Bahai, and Vedic Sanatan Dharma communities came together to mark Interfaith Harmony Week this year.
The NIRN’s Narendra Pandey also presented a paper titled Media and Interfaith Harmony during the program, stating that the gap between media and religious leadership must be bridged.
There is growing concern that politically motivated attacks on minorities and religious intolerance in India is starting to spread in Nepal as well with some parties pushing for the revival of a Hindu monarchy.
Priya Dasi, president of the National Inter-religious Network On Violence against Women, added that the media needs to exercise caution about the language used for reporting on issues about religion.
“The relationship between religious leaders and media must be strengthened for the sake of societal harmony and transformation,” he said.
Nahida Banu of the NIRN said that there is a “need to provide better explanation about religious tolerance in Nepal”. Attendees of the event also spoke about the NIRN’s work in ending child marriage, facilitating a school enrolment campaign, and the need for cooperation between religious leaders to smoothly facilitate this year’s vaccination campaign.
Last year, tension erupted between the Hindu, Kirat, and Christian communities in Dharan in eastern Nepal over the construction of a Church across the street from a temple, as well as uproar over the public announcement about the consumption of beef by Dharan’s indigenous communities.
Of late, Nepal’s public sphere has seen a shift to pro-Hindu sentiments corresponding with Hindutva in India and its growing influence in Nepal. Prominent political leaders, especially from the RPP, have called for abolishing secularism from the Constitution, and the restoration of a Hindu nation.