Continue With Good Practices Of Inclusion

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Baishakh is the first month of the lunar calendar observed according to the Vikram Sambat. It is a month where the New Year is celebrated by different communities and nationalities all over South Asia. Nepal observes the New Year on the first of Baishak every year as the first day of the Hindu lunar calendar. The month of Baishakh is spread across March/April of the Roman calendar. In her article "Not a monolith: Happy New Year Southasia!" for Sapan News, Kavita Srivastava mentions that during Baishakh, celebrations of the new year take place in different communities in India, including Baishakhi, Ugadi, Pohela Baishakh, Gudi Padwa, Vishu, Pana Sakranti, Bihu, Puthandu, Onam, and Maha Vishuba Sankranti, which are mainly Hindu festivals but also observed by other religions like the Christians in South India celebrating Onam. 

She also mentions that Baloch, Afghan, and Iranian people, including the Zoroastrians and Bahais, celebrate the New Year, termed as “Nauroze,” during the third week of March. A rare solar eclipse fell during Baishakh celebrations this year, and Eid-ul-Fitr was observed during this time. This year, the month of Baishakh is also witnessing a festive and electrifying election atmosphere in India, apart from the various New Year celebrations by the different communities there. In Nepal, like all other South Asian countries, the Indian elections are of keen interest. Most of our countries are tied to each other for economic and border issues with India, which is now towering as one of the most powerful economies on the global front.

In Nepal, since we became a secular country, a wave of good practices of inclusion has been established. The sexual minorities have been given recognition in the constitution, and same-sex marriage is legal. Holidays are given during Eid, Christmas, Losar, and other major festivals of different religions and cultures. This year, during Eid-ul-Fitr, which fell in Baishak, Nepal Telecom played a ringtone for a few days wishing Eid Mubarak. Solidarity for and celebration of different festivals based on cultures, tradition, and religion all over the world and especially in countries where one religion dominates, is actually a sign of advanced civilisation leading towards peace and prosperity. 

Wave of Hindutva

Nepal has shown an open approach by embracing festivals of different cultures and religions even if the percentage of some of this population is around 4 per cent of the total population like Muslims and Christians, giving them a sense of security. Nepal has been the only Hindu country on earth so far; however, now we are a secular federal republic after a long struggle against monarchy. With the wave of Hindutva in the rise in India, especially in Uttarakhand, known as the Land of the Gods, there could be reasons for a sense of unease for Nepal. Along the Terai belt of the country, which is the bordering section along the open borders with India, a wave of Hindu nationalist voices is ringing, especially after the inauguration of the Ram Mandir in Ayodhya by Prime Minister Modi a few months back.

The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led coalition under Prime Minister Modi is slated to head towards a third victory. India is known as one of the oldest and largest democracies on earth. However, during the last decade of reign by the BJP-led coalition, it has been observed that democracy there has become more and more fragile. There are speculations that with the advent of a third term of BJP, led by Modi, there could be a possibility of rewriting the secular constitution of the country as a Hindu-first country. The Guardian writes “over the past decade as India has grown to become the world’s fifth-largest economy, Modi’s government stands accused by rights groups of growing authoritarianism and pursuing Hindutva (Hindu-first) policies that have eroded the rights and freedoms of minorities, in particular India’s 200 million Muslims.”

In Nepal, these days the people point to Uttarakhand, Bihar, and Uttar Pradesh as examples of how after the advent of BJP government, law and order have been put in place. These states border Nepal and have had centuries-long social and economic relationships. Therefore, the political, criminal, and business transactions across the open border in these areas are very obvious. With the prohibition of alcohol in Bihar, there has been a surge of hotels and restaurants across the border in Nepal, catering to weekend individual and corporate parties for Indian clients as alcohol is freely available here.

Harmony

Peace, stability, and harmony are the requirements of today all over the world. At such a time, stability in districts like Bihar, UP, and Uttarakhand bordering Nepal could be a positive sign; however, if that is done by control over the population there, which sparks negative activities here, then it is not something to be happy about. The proliferation of Hindutva fever is being seen and felt not only along the southern border of Nepal but also in the Kathmandu Valley. There have been several demonstrations in the country asking for the reinstatement of the monarchy and making Nepal a Hindu country once more, in the presence of leaders of Rastriya Swayamsewak Sangh, which is an Indian right-winged Hindu nationalist volunteer paramilitary organisation. 

Civil societies and social and political leaders, who have the guts to raise a voice against the BJP and Prime Minister Narendra Modi, have been put in prison just before the elections as they were preparing to contest against BJP. This is definitely not the model the Nepali people and political leaders had in mind while revolting against the monarchy. Nepal now needs to continue the good practices of inclusion that have already been institutionalised here. The people in India need to reorganise themselves and plan to be a leader in South Asia to establish peace and prosperity rather than reinstate undemocratic practices.

(Sharma is a senior journalist and women's rights advocate. namrata1964@yahoo.com. Twitter handle: @NamrataSharmaP)

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