Eight Christians are still awaiting the outcome of their trial, after they became the first people to be charged under Nepal’s new rules on religious freedom. Their crime? Distributing pamphlets about Jesus during a trauma seminar in a Christian school, following last year’s devastating earthquake (see video below).
But they are not the only Christians to suffer repercussions following their efforts to provide support. World Watch Monitor visited Champi village, near Kathmandu, to meet a group of Christians attacked in the days that followed, as they tried to distribute corrugated metal sheets to villagers.
As six of them unloaded the sheets from a truck, they were attacked by four of their neighbours, who beat them with steel rods. Other Christian families living nearby tried to stop them, but they were fought off.
“The people who assaulted us live near our house,” said Sunita Kumar, the wife of a local pastor, Suraj. “They pick on us for small reasons, but we stay silent because we are concerned about the safety of our children.”
Suraj added: “While other non-Christians in the village also disliked us, one of our neighbours, Sanjiv Nepali, and his family always used to threaten us, saying that they would beat us if we did not stop preaching. They accused us many times of receiving huge donations from foreigners for converting Hindu people into Christians. Eventually they attacked.”
Sunita and three others were injured during the attack, which went on for around 30 minutes.
“When I fell on the ground, they kicked me on my back several times,” she said. “My back hurt immensely when I was finally taken to the hospital. Since the incident I have been unable to eat properly; I am always fearful about my children and husband. We could be attacked again any time. They openly threaten us and local police are in their favour. I am very afraid.”
The police came after about 45 minutes and Sanjiv Nepali was arrested; he remained in prison for a few days, and was then released on bail.
“He has connections with the local political leaders, so he easily [arranged] bail,” said Suraj. “He is fearless and he even [threatened] the police officers. He has also threatened us many times to take back the case. His strong hatred against Christians comes from his being a member of the local Hindu extremist party.”
The government promised the Kumars compensation to cover their medical costs, but they have so far received only a quarter of the amount they had to pay.
Champi is mostly inhabited by Dalits, members of the “untouchable” caste. Most of the Christians in the area have menial jobs, which are poorly paid. In the last few years, an increase in conversions to Christianity has been accompanied by a rise in opposition against Christians.
World Watch Monitor also met a number of pastors and missionaries from churches across Nepal, whose names are being withheld to preserve their safety. Here are a few of the challenges they said they are facing:
(Lamjung, east of Pokhara)
“Many times in rural areas people might not attack the Christians, but they do socially boycott them; accepting Christianity is commonly known to be shameful for the family. A few months ago, Emmanuel Church in Dhadhing District [west of Kathmandu], was burnt by some jealous local villagers for the same reason.”
(Narayanthan, west of Pokhara)
“In many cases, if [a Christian woman’s] husband hasn’t accepted Christ, the believing wives and children are not allowed [by their husbands] to go to church; we have such women in our church who secretly attend. In a few of the cases in the past, such women have been able to [convert] their husbands, but only after a long period of waiting.”
“Students from rural areas often come to cities like Kathmandu to pursue higher studies; many times when these students are reached by evangelists, they accept Christ. However, when their families come to know of their conversion, they are denied financial help until they reject Christianity. Recently, we have come across two such students who had to leave their faith because of opposition from their family members.”
“The offerings and funds are deposited in personal accounts of the pastor or the leader of the church, as the churches are not recognised as a religious institution. A few big churches with many members might be registered as a trust, but again they have no identity as a religious institution. That makes them vulnerable if the politics in the country in the coming days is influenced by some Hindu extremist parties or other anti-Christian parties. Even after the earthquake, when thousands of churches were destroyed, their number was not counted, nor the destruction compensated for by the government, as in case of the temples.”
(Sindhupalchowk, north-east of Kathmandu)
“Since churches have no graveyards, we had to carry the dead bodies a great distance and bury them on the riverbeds. Many we buried on our church premises. We also faced threats and intense opposition from the non-Christian family members of two [ladies] from our church. These sisters were among those who were killed in the earthquake that occurred during the church service on 25 April 2015.” Their family members blamed the church leaders for their deaths and assaulted them, said the pastor.