I recently heard a Nepali Christian priest claim that there are around two million Christians in the country.In a television interview, I also watched one leader of a rightist political party claim that before 2007 BS there were just 25 Christians in the country but now there are more than 2.5 million converted Christians in Nepal and if reports are to be believed then the number is increasing rapidly after the declaration of Nepal as a secular state.
The national census (2011) shows Nepali Christians number approximately 1.42% of the total population that is almost triple the number in 2001 census, however the Christian religious leaders disagree with this statistics.They are said to believe that the number could be more than that however the sharp incline in the number of Christians with the decline in the number of Buddhists and Kirants in the past decade itself provides credibility to the situation at hand.
Here, in this context I recall my visit in 2010 to a squatter settlement “sukumbasi basti” in Butwal of western Nepal for a research regarding the condition of children there, but what startled me during the research period was not the condition of the children in the locality but it was actually the unexpected number of Christian converts I came across that impelled me to think about the possible reasons behind mass conversion of religion.
As it was a squatter settlement so it is evident that it seemed hard for the people to have their ends met with most of the families involved in low profile jobs of breaking stones in the nearby river and others working as labours or porters in Butwal. Apparently, poverty was a striking problem in the settlement with the local people facing problems to even manage square meals a day.
When I interviewed some of the converts, I found out that a Christian funded NGO was running a school, a church and providing health services to the people of that locality. They taught the children for free, provided meal once a day and also conducted regular health checkups. On Sundays and during holidays the parents took their children to the church for prayers.
The situation of the people and the stories which unfolded made me question myself if the people had changed their religion out of faith or necessity! The reason could be either of the two but the situation in hand was clearly pointing out to the fact that the people were living a life pressurized by necessities which they couldn’t meet and the establishment of the church funded school and health centre ensured good future for their children hence it may not have been a hard task to convince and convert those poor uneducated families.
In another story I came across in a national daily newspaper, Lhakpa Wangchuk Bhutia, an ordinary Nepali facing poverty from Taplejung, one of the remotest villages in the country, born into a Buddhist family never went back to his village after becoming a Christian. He was worried about what his relatives or friends would say about his turning to Christianity.
Many of his neighbors consider a change in religion as tantamount to deserting the community and showing contempt for traditional culture. Bhutia offers no reason for turning to Christianity. Now, Bhutia is in Kathmandu and working as a security guard in one of the churches. In this case too, Bhutia’s conversion of religion provided him with an opportunity of employment which he couldn’t reject despite the social dejection he has to face back in his village.
Nepal was a Hindu nation for many decades and after the historic political movement of 2006, Nepal was declared a secular nation but there is no denying to the fact that the actual religions of this land have always been Hinduism, Buddhism and Kirant. Poverty and the social structure (caste based discrimination) has been one of the major tools for the Christian Missionary sponsored churches to convert Nepalese into Christians.
The alarming growth in the number of conversions across the country should be immediately controlled. Yes, it is a matter of individual choice and freedom for any person to choose which religion to follow but it should be forbidden to coerce or lure anybody to change his/her religion.
In many cases, there might be various reasons and vested interests of the Christian Missionaries and Christian European countries to pour so much money in our country for these purposes hidden behind veils of community service and poverty elimination. It is high time that the government and the people realize this fact and work towards checking these kind of activities going on inside the country.
The government should also work towards addressing the problems and basic necessities of Nepalese living a life of poverty so that they don’t fall victim to foreign sponsored agendas of Religious mass conversions in our country. Appropriate steps should be immediately taken and plans should be brought forward to solve looming problems of illiteracy,poverty, unemployment,caste discrimination in the country which are the main factors responsible for triggering of the problem.
The Acts of mass religious conversion should be considered as an attack on the nation’s cultural and historical identity so appropriate steps should be taken earliest possible to protect the religious identity of our people and nation.