Grave space crunch: An unsettling crisis for Nepal's religious minorities

Religious Minority Rights



With the rapid but unplanned urbanization and increasing population pressure in the ancient city of Kathmandu, the religions minorities like Islam, Christianity, Bahá'í and others, who don’t cremate dead bodies, have started facing a serious crisis of space for burial and cemetery.


Since the Hindus, who make up over 80 percent of Nepal’s total population, have the tradition of cremation, it has never been a problem for them. But for the religious minorities with the tradition of burial, finding a little space for the same has been getting increasingly problematic.


The Muslims in Kathmandu, for instance, have run out of burial space long time ago. The only one cemetery in Soyambhu area was build decades ago when Kathmandu was a very small town and the population of Muslims was negligible. “As we ran out of burial space, we are compelled to bury one dead person over another excavating the older burials, which are sometimes as fresh as six months,” says Taj Mohammad Miya, coordinator of the United Muslim National Struggle Committee (UMNSC), which successfully lead the Muslim Movement in March last year.


In a six-point agreement inked after the Muslim movement on March 16, the government had agreed to address, among others, the graveyard space crisis facing the community through a separate Muslim commission, which is yet to be established.


The problem of burial space for Bahá'í community, is even more complicated. In Bahá'í Law, the deceased must be buried no more than one hour's journey from the place of death. Given this law, the community had purposefully bought a patch of land in Kapan, Lalitpur, which has been serving as the only one cemetery for the community for the last three decades.


But since last one and half years, the locals have stopped the Bahá'í people from using the cemetery. “It’s really disturbing to admit that we don’t have space to bury if anyone dies,” says a Bahá'í leader Larry Robertson. “We bought the two-Ropani patch of land in Lalitpur for our cemetery as early as in 1977, when there was no house around there. But later on the area got crowded, and now the people don’t allow us to use the cemetery.”


Robertson says the government should either provide a place of burial or make a provision in the law which allows religious organisations to set aside land for a cemetery and is recognised as such by the government.


The Christian community, who make up about 0.5 percent of the roughly 26 million Nepalis, is also not immune to this problem.


“Finding a proper burial place may not be a problem for the members of rich churches, who have bought lands for their cemeteries in the fringes of Kathamndu, but it is a serious problem for the poor,” says Phanindra Bhusal of National Council of Churches of Nepal. There are over 300 churches in Kathmandu alone, who maintain either joint or separate cemeteries, which have now become a source of conflict with the locals as more and more houses are being built around the earlier desolate cemeteries.


Bhusal says the problem is not endemic to Kathmandu alone as it has created problems in districts as well and if this issue is not addressed in a systematic manner, it is likely to create further tensions among the people of different religions.  “We are hopeful that the new constitution would ensure our rights, including right to burial space.”

(Source: The Kathmandu Post, Jan 28, 2010:

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