The interim constitution provides for religious freedom; however, it specifically prohibits proselytizing. It also declared the country a secular state. At year’s end, the 601-person Constituent Assembly, elected in 2008, was drafting a new constitution.
The interim constitution maintains the stipulation from the 1990 constitution that no one shall be discriminated against based on caste. In May the Assembly passed the Caste-based Discrimination and Untouchability Act, which criminalizes acts of caste-based discrimination in public and private spaces, including places of worship.
In 2002 the government constituted a National Dalit Commission charged with protecting and promoting Dalit rights, ensuring active participation of the Dalit community in the country’s development, and coordinating with local nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) involved in Dalit issues. When members of the Dalit community have filed cases of societal discrimination regarding prohibitions on access to temples, the commission has assisted in protecting these individuals’ rights to religious practice.
There are no specific laws favoring the Hindu majority, nor did the government control the expression of Hinduism. Buddhists complained about the legal prohibition on killing cows, which they view as discriminatory. The country’s general code prohibits the killing or intended killing of cows. Penalties for violating this law include twelve years imprisonment.
Civil servants are permitted to take religious holidays and celebrate them on private property without government interference.
Although there are no registration requirements for religious groups, there are annual registration requirements for NGOs. Christian, Muslim, and Jewish religious organizations claimed that, unless registered, they were prevented from owning land, an important step for establishing churches, mosques, synagogues, or burial sites.
The country’s interim constitution and criminal code prohibit proselytizing, which is punishable by fines, imprisonment, or, for foreigners, expulsion. Personal conversion is, however, allowed. There were no reports of criminal prosecutions for proselytizing during the past year.
There are officially no foreign missionaries; however, dozens of Christian missionary hospitals, welfare organizations, and schools have operated for decades. These organizations do not proselytize and otherwise operate free of government interference. Missionary schools are among the most respected institutions of secondary education; many members of the governing and business elite graduated from Catholic high schools. Foreign workers in the missionary hospitals and schools enter the country with visas designating them as technical workers for local or international NGOs sponsoring the hospitals and schools. The government's immigration laws provide for expelling any foreign workers found proselytizing; however, there were no expulsions during the year. Many foreign Christian organizations have direct ties to local churches and sponsor pastors for religious training abroad.
Although public schools do not teach religious beliefs, most have a statue of Saraswati, the Hindu goddess of learning, on their grounds. Some begin the day with a Hindu prayer to the goddess.
Madrassahs, but not mosques, are required to register with local district administration offices (part of the Home Ministry) and supply information about their funding sources. Some Muslim leaders criticized the policy as discriminatory; however, in practice the registration requirement was not enforced. According to the country’s Department of Education, approximately 810 madrassahs are legally registered with the District Education Offices (DEOs); the DEOs provide a minimum of financial support annually to those legally registered. Madrassahs having up to 50 students are registered as formal schools. Registered madrassahs are allocated approximately 26,000 Nepali Rupees ($346) per year by the government to cover teachers’ salaries. The department also prepares curricula for the registered madrassahs. Muslims are not restricted from participating in the Hajj, and the government does not subsidize the pilgrimage.
There were no restrictions on the sale or possession of religious literature.
The government has no formal policy on interfaith understanding.
The government observes the following religious holidays as national holidays: Mahashivaratri, Falgun Purnima, Krishna Asthami, Dashain, Tihar, Maghi, Chhath, Lhosar (a Buddhist new year celebration observed on different dates by the Gurung and Tamang/Sherpa communities), Buddha Jayanti, Eid (Eid-al-Fitr), Christmas, and Ughauli (a Kirant ethnic/religious festival the Rai and Limbu communities celebrate).