chapter  2
“A garden of every kind of people”: Newar Buddhists in Hindu Nepal
Pages 31

Since the end of the decade-long Maoist “People’s War” in 2006, Nepal has been reformulating its social and political structure. Questions of religion and secularism have been at the center of the accompanying political debates. The Maoists consistently made it clear that, while they were willing to compromise on almost any other social or economic issue, they considered the abolition of the Hindu monarchy and the reorganization of the state as a secular, federal republic a non-negotiable condition for any political settlement. For the Maoists, national Hinduism was the very root of the feudal oppression and of the social injustices they were fighting. And indeed, the first act of the first meeting of the popularly elected Maoist-dominated Constituent Assembly in 2008 made this law. On May 28, 596 out of 600 lawmakers voted to officially end two centuries of Hindu rule by ratifying acts that abolished the monarchy and transformed what had been the constitutionally Hindu Kingdom of Nepal into an officially secular, democratic state. The historical importance of this legal decision cannot be underestimated. Once the divine body of the Nepal state itself, the King is now a private citizen. Laws have been struck from the books that had established Hinduism as the national religion, that privileged Hindu media and Sanskrit scholarship, and that criminalized converting from one’s birth religion or proselytizing with the goal of converting someone else.1 At the same time, many practical details regarding what, precisely, state secularism is remain heavily contested. A government attempt to replace several priests at the country’s most sacred Hindu shineostensibly for misuse of temple funds-led to violent protest by conservative Hindus. This and other incidents, and debates around who, if anyone, should receive the annual Dasain tika from the hands of the Kathmandu Kumari, an act symbolizing the transmission of the right to rule from the Living Goddess to the Head of State-previously the King-vividly illustrate the challenges of reorganizing relations between religious and temporal modes of authority in the new, republican nation-state. While Royalists and Hindu nationalists continue to portray the Maoists as hardline atheists, the reality is more complex. When the Maoist supreme leader Pushpa Kamal Dahal (aka “Prachanda”—“the fierce one”) was asked if he was religious in an interview with the Italian magazine L’Espresso, he replied, “No,

not at all. But in the People’s Army there are Hindus, Buddhists and others, and we respect all the religious beliefs of the masses, even if our party teaches its officials and cadres a more scientific and secular point of view.”2