A new legislation, Civil and Criminal Codes, consists of a set of laws to guide civil and legal proceedings, was enacted recently that replaced the General Code of Nepal. One of the new changes was the anti-conversion law regarding religion and it has sparked up a lot of debate.
Section 9 Number 158 (2nd clause) states the following translation: “No one should convert a person from one religion to another religion or profess them own religion and belief with similar intention by using or not using any means of attraction and by disturbing religion or belief of any ethnic groups or community that being practiced since ancient times.”
The next clause also goes on to state that the punishment for the above-mentioned offense will be 5 years of imprisonment and a penalty charge of NRs. 50,000 while foreigners found guilty against will also be deported within 7 days after the completion of imprisonment.
The new restrictions are said to be specifically targeting the rapidly growing community of Christians in Nepal in order to preserve Hinduism with Nepal being one of the only three Hindu majority nations. The view is that Nepal is being flooded by Christian NGO’s (especially since the 2015 quake) which take advantage of the socio-economically vulnerable population and forcefully proselytize them i.e. they manipulate people into converting to their religion.
People on the other side of the argument question the right of free expression and opinion guaranteed by the Nepali Constitution. They also argue that the law goes against not only democracy and human rights but also secularism. The Christian community has also responded with how this law could be used against them at any time, affecting their practices of preaching and in the process hampering the freedom of religion as well.
On the neutral ground, people want true conversion and not forced conversion of religion but at the same time are well aware of the threat posed by foreign-backed religious minority organizations towards national stability. The revolt against the regressive caste-based system, unjust religious practices is needed but should never play a hand in religious conversion. Protecting our religion is equally significant as allowing true religion conversion. However, we are far from balancing this out.
The government’s resolve to this is also far from ideal as seen by the opinions divided. The foreign-backed proliferation of Christianity will always be a sensitive issue but the root cause of this problem is certainly being overlooked which is that whether secularism is in Nepal’s interest or not.