Nepal's Maoists protest against Indian priests



Kathmandu: Nepalese Maoists blocked roads across the capital Kathmandu on Sunday to protest against a decision to appoint two Indian priests at the country's holiest Hindu temple.

Hundreds of demonstrators chanted ‘Down with Indian priests’ and ‘Appoint Nepalese priests’ as they brought traffic to a standstill.

On Friday, the priests were performing purification rituals before taking up their new posts when they were attacked by Maoists wielding iron rods.

"Security has been increased to avoid any further violence," Chabbi Raman Bhattarai, a police officer at the protests, said.

He said the Indian priests, who suffered minor injuries in the attack, performed their daily rituals on Sunday without interruption.

"We stopped the entry of devotees for a few hours to let the priests do their worshipping," said Bhattarai.

Senior priests at the UNESCO-listed Pashupati temple have traditionally been high-caste Hindus from southern India, a custom that has gone on for hundreds of years.

But the previous Maoist government sought to scrap the tradition, saying in December it wanted them to come from Nepal instead.

The step was part of wider moves by the Maoist government to restructure Nepal's relationship with India, which some Nepalese see as too dominant in the nation's affairs.

But the Maoist government had to suspend its decision to appoint Nepalese priests after large protests by junior priests and devotees, leaving the temple without senior priests for many months.

The Maoist government collapsed earlier this year and, with the Hindu festival season approaching, Nepal's new administration had decided to appoint new Indian priests.

"We will continue our protest until the government takes back its decision," said Ishwar Khatri, a Maoist protesters near Pashupati temple.

"We don't need Indian priests to perform rituals at the temple. The Nepalese priests can do the job."

The unrest has shocked worshippers.

"I used to come to temple without any fear and now the situation looks dangerous. It is a real threat to our age-old religious harmony," said Gangaram Sahukala as he came out of the temple.

About 80 percent of Nepal's population is Hindu, and 10 percent is Buddhist.

Bureau Report