Nepal boasts one of the world’s fastest growing Christian populations. Much of this growth is happening within the country’s lowest castes collectively know as Dalits or Untouchables. Equality offered in Christianity and charity are often major factors in attracting Nepal’s marginalized to the faith. Technically, proselytizing in Nepal is outlawed by the country’s constitution, but still the Church is growing. Many Hindus claim Christians are using foreign money to purchase conversions, yet these same individuals are unable to see how generations of discrimination and “untouchability” has driven entire communities away from the Hindu belief system.
08/15/2017 Nepal (The Guardian) – Ram Maya Sunar had two miscarriages. Then she had a daughter, who died of pneumonia when she was one. “My second child died from tuberculosis at just six months. I’m still haunted by it,” Sunar says, sitting outside her concrete block hut in the village of Thakaldanda, in southern Nepal’s Makwanpur district.
When she became pregnant again, Sunar sought out an unlikely remedy. Rather than call the local shamans, as she had done before, she joined a church.
The 35-year-old, a Hindu, converted to Christianity and gave birth to a healthy daughter, and later a son. “They are my gifts from God,” she says.
It is a story repeated across Thakaldanda, a village of about 50 households. “There’s a church here, and another church there, and another over there,” says Kajiman BK, who converted to Christianity after surviving an unknown disease.
It is not just survival stories that Sunar and Kajiman have in common. They are also Dalits (formerly “untouchables”), members of the lowest Hindu caste, who continue to suffer discrimination and abuse.
It is Dalits, and other marginalized groups, who are leading a surge in the growth of Christianity in Nepal. More than a million people in Nepal identify as Christians, and the country has one of the fastest growing Christian populations in the world. The Federation of National Christian Nepal says 65% of Christians are Dalits.
Nepal, formerly the only Hindu state in the world, became a secular republic following the 10-year civil war, and the fall of the monarchy in 2008. Hinduism remains the country’s dominant religion, but the transition to secularism opened up space for other religions, even though proselytizing is outlawed in the constitution.
The growth of Christianity is driven by motivations that appear to have more to do with health, discrimination and poverty than pure belief. And behind the conversions, critics say, is the presence of well-funded foreign missionaries.
Off the main road of Manahari, a town in Makwanpur, dozens of small churches have sprung up. Local Christian pastors estimate the town has two mosques, five Buddhist gompas, 10 temples and 35 churches.
In the nearby village of Ramantar, Dalit Christians already have that prayer answered; they worship in an airy two-story building constructed with the support of American missionaries. The pastor, Jit Bahadur Sunar, says there are three other churches in the village. “Ten years ago there were just four or five Christian families here, but every day the number is increasing,” he says. “Virtually all the Dalits here are Christian.”
Caste discrimination is the main reason Dalits are turning to Christianity, he says. “The higher castes in the village used to treat dogs better than us … and generally they still do. [Upper caste] priests refuse to do marriage or death rituals for Dalits, but among Christians there is no discrimination … we are all equal.”
Hari Gopal Rimal, a local Hindu priest, accepts this. “Untouchability is a weakness in Hinduism … these things need to be changed,” he says.