Muslims on warpath in Nepal

via http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/articleshow/msid-4260739,prtpage-1.cms published on March 13, 2009
KATHMANDU: Angered by the Maoist
government’s failure to form the promised Muslim Commission and the
imposition of a controversial quota ordinance, Nepal’s minority Muslim
community is on the warpath, announcing a series of bandhs to pressure Prime
Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal Prachanda into heeding their demands.

The
newly formed United Muslim National Struggle Committee has called a Kathmandu
valley bandh Sunday, to be followed by a strike in the eastern region on March
22, a bandh in the west the day after and two more closures in the central
region and midwest on March 25 and 27 respectively.

The protests were
announced after a torch rally in the capital Thursday, in which dozens of
Muslims took part, demanding the Muslim Commission that Prachanda had promised
them last July after his party won the election. In addition, the community is
also asking for an amendment in the interim constitution which makes provisions
for disadvantaged groups like women, Dalits, and ethnic communities but does not
mention Muslims.

Till 2006, Nepal was the world’s only Hindu
kingdom where Muslims, though living in harmony, remained among the poorest and
least-literate community, mostly eking out a bare livelihood by farming or
labour in the Terai plains along the Indo-Nepal border. This year, the Prachanda
government’s decision to reserve 45 seats for backward communities in the
now secular republic has stirred up a hornets’ nest.

The
Muslims, along with ethnic groups from the Terai plains, fear that the
reservation policy will favour the Madhesis, people of Indian origin also living
in the Terai. They are now demanding an amendment in the constitution so that
Muslims are included as a separate group among disadvantaged
communities.

Like other protesting groups, Nepal’s Muslims too
want proportional representation in all state organs on the basis of population.
According to Taj Mohammad Miyan, the convenor of the protesting committee, the
last census of 2001, which put the Muslim population at over 4 percent of the 27
million population, is grossly inaccurate With Nepal’ population now
exceeding 29.5 million, he estimates Muslims to comprise nearly 10 percent.
Muslims are now demanding a new census in order to be better
represented.

The announcement of the bandhs comes after a 15-day
ultimatum given by them to the Prachanda government. The flexing of muscles
occurs at a time the coalition government is already reeling under a 12-day
bandh called in the Terai by the Tharus, a people who were the original
residents of Terai descended from the Buddha.

The bandh by the
Tharus, who too are opposing the quota policy, has raised the spectre of a fuel
and food shortage in the capital and hill districts. Gas stations in the capital
have been running dry and the remote western districts suffering from acute
shortage of food and essential items.


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