KATHMANDU – Thousands of protesters gathered in the Nepal capital on Wednesday demanding the government to scrap a controversial bill to nationalize trusts that manage temples amid fears the move would jeopardize the centuries-old Hindu culture and religious traditions.
After days of protests, the authorities on Tuesday promised to withdraw the Guthi bill from parliament but those opposing the proposed legislation suspect that Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli-led Communist Party government may bring back the bill described by its critics as “repressive.”
“The government promised to withdraw the bill from the National Assembly on Tuesday evening. But we continued our protest to pressurize the government not to bring the bill back again,” chairperson of National Identity Protection Joint Struggle Committee Ganapati Lal Shrestha told EFE.
Shrestha said an estimated 40,000 people took part in the demonstration near Singha Durbar, the country’s administrative hub in the heart of Kathmandu.
The protesters shouted anti-government slogans and blocked the road but no clashes with police took place.
The bill, which envisions nationalizing under a powerful commission all guthis or trusts – public as well as private – that regulate religious places in the largely Hindu country.
Guthis, run by families or particular communities, have been part of the social system in the Kathmandu Valley since the 15th century under which land is donated to a temple trust.
The income generated from the commonly-owned land is utilized for various works within the community such as restoration of temples, rest houses, priest houses, and stone water spouts. This revenue is also used to carry out various festivals, customs, rites and rituals.
Heritage conservationist and senior advocate Bharat Jangam told EFE that the trust system had helped to preserve centuries-old cultural heritages of the valley and the bill was being brought to seize the land donated to guthis.
“If this bill is endorsed, it will take away all our tangible and intangible heritages. All religious activities and traditions will collapse if this bill is passed,” said Jangam who is also the general secretary of an organization working to preserve guthi.
Relenting under pressure after intense protests, Minister for Land Management, Cooperatives and Poverty Alleviation Padma Kumari Aryal told the media on Tuesday that the government had decided to withdraw the bill presented in parliament on May 20.
The prime minister, in a separate press conference on Tuesday, also expressed his support for the withdrawal of the bill.
Nepali Congress President and former prime minister Sher Bahadur Deuba addressing parliament on Wednesday said the controversial bill should be withdrawn from parliament immediately.
“The bill has not been withdrawn (as) yet. It is against the principle of parliamentary practice,” Deuba said.