Three months ago, on 16 April, Christian worker Santosh Khadka was shot in Kathmandu while he was returning home from an Easter service. Police have not been able to identify the attackers, but local Christians say Khadka was targeted because of his religious-freedom work, as some groups in this young democracy are calling for the reinstatement of Hinduism as the state religion.
The Federation of National Christian, Nepal, where Khadka works as an office secretary, called the shooting a “cowardly act” and an attack on “the whole Christian community”.
Two days after the attack on Khadka in Kathmandu’s Lalitpur Municipality, unidentified men set fire to the vehicles of one of the biggest Catholic churches in Nepal, Assumption Church in Kathmandu. In May 2009, three people died after a bomb exploded inside the same church during a Saturday Mass.
Attacks on Christians seem to have increased after a new constitution came into effect on 20 September 2015. The charter recognises only partial religious freedom. It effectively bans evangelism, as it states that no-one is allowed to make an attempt to convert people of other religions to his or her own. It also calls for the protection of Hinduism, the majority religion. However, some Hindu right-wing parties and groups still claim that Hinduism is under threat due to the possibility of more conversions to Christianity. They are also demanding that the term “secularism” be removed from the charter of Nepal, which was a Hindu monarchy until 2006.
The promulgation of the constitution was preceded by low-intensity blasts in two churches in east Nepal. Pamphlets promoting Hindu nationalism were found at each of the churches and a nationalist group, Hindu Morcha Nepal, issued a press statement calling for Christian leaders to leave the country and for converts to Christianity to return to Hinduism.
This religiously charged atmosphere makes the Christian minority vulnerable. Khadka says he has not been able to get over his fear since the shooting incident.
World Watch Monitor interviewed Khadka at the location in Kathmandu where he was attacked.
“Easter Sunday, that is 16 April 2017, there was a mass gathering, a programme organised by our organisation. And when we finished our programme at 5pm, I came to my office and took my bicycle and headed to my house. It was almost 7.30pm,” Khadka recalled.
“Almost 200 or 300 metres ahead, I heard a sound of [something] bursting behind me. And I was just riding the bicycle. And I thought that street children were playing with crackers and they threw it on me. So I ignored it, and kept on driving. And [after] going almost 20 to 30 metres ahead, I stopped my bike to see if my bike was punctured. But I found that my bike was OK. And I again started to ride my bicycle. And I reached an English service, a church service nearby my house. I was feeling a little bit [of] pain in my left waist. While sitting there for 10 to 15 minutes, I felt something wet in my waist, so I [asked] my friend to look. When he did, he was shocked. It was blood.”
Pointing to the spot where he was shot, Khadka said, “That is the place, you know. From there, this road goes to [that] side. That was the place, the exact place.”
He added, “I was entered into an operation hall. And by the grace of God, the doctors were successful in removing the bullet from my body after the hard work of three hours.”
Khadka explained why he believes the attack was due to his Christian work.
“It is communal violence because, the day after my incident, the same group … I think the same group … burnt the vehicles of a Catholic church, the Assumption Church [in Kathmandu],” he said. “[Some Hindu] majority groups always want to suppress us, and they want to discourage us.”
Khadka added, “Two days after [the incident], our office organised a press meet. It was a national press meet. And it was organised to pressure the government to give safety for the Christian community, and to provide protection for the churches.”
“Physically I’m fully recovered,” he said, and added, “I’ve just got a mark of three or four centimetres over here. I’m not getting any [sensation]. It is [without any sensation]. Maybe the vein or the nerve may be disconnected. And I think it will be healed in the coming days. I hope so; God will heal this wound very soon. I don’t have any complication with my wound.
“But psychologically, I’m a little bit disturbed. When I walk on the street alone, if somebody came behind me, I’d be shocked. I would turn and look who is he, why is he coming? But I’m an optimistic person, so I think God will make me free of that psychological fear also.”