Preachers Promoting Social Harmony
“I am under severe pressure from some fundamentalists who want me to stop collaborating with Muslim Maulanas, Christian pastors and Sikh gurus. But I will not leave my team from the Inter-Religious Network,” said Mahantha Chandra Nath Yogi, a well-known Hindu priest, at an event organized in Neplagunj. “Some extremists dislike our efforts in promoting social cohesion but I will leave no stone unturned to promote social harmony in Banke,” he emphasized.
Nepalgunj, the headquarters of Banke district, is a hub for hill-migrants from nearly eighteen districts of the mid and far western regions of Nepal. The city is therefore home to Hindus, Muslims, Buddhists, Sikhs and Christians, who had lived in harmony. Not only Nepalgunj, the entire Banke district has diverse cultural communities with different religious faiths. Recently, however, some sporadic communal clashes between Hindu and Muslim and Pahadi and Madhesi communities have been reported. For instance, in December 2016, two persons were killed, and ten others injured, during a clash in Matehiya, a nearby settlement across the Rapti River– known as Raaptipari.
In that backdrop, UNDP’s Social Cohesion and Democratic Participation Programme (SCDP), along with its district partners – Bageshwori Asal Shasan Club (BAS) and Information and Human Rights Research Centre (IHRC) – have been working towards mobilizing religious preachers in the promotion of social cohesion. The role religious leaders of different faiths play in order to create a society that ensures coexistence, fairness, equal participation with attention to different caste, class and ethnic groups is critical. To that end, Banke-based partners have been closely working with religious gurus, despite many challenges and threats.
Furthermore, partner organizations in Banke have been actively promoting social cohesion through various interventions in the region. The project helped organize a school-level speech competition, a public hearing, celebrations of inter-community festivals, a perception survey on social cohesion, a series of awareness campaigns and even named a Chautari (a traditional resting spot) as Social Cohesion Chautari.
While the District Profile of Banke shows that it is ranked as one of the top twenty highest paddy producing districts and 50.17% of its land is covered by forests, it does not paint the true picture of the entire district. Residents of Raaptipari VDCs – Banakalti, Betahani, Holiya, Gangapur, Matehiya, Phattepur and Kanchannagar – face several hurdles that impede them from acquiring government services that they are entitled to. Raptipaari is also highly vulnerable to floods and other natural calamities. Under the SCDP, an information centre has been established by the UNDP partners in tension-torn Matehiya. The centre offers information with regards to access to government services.
As part of the initiative, the project partners also organized a public hearing in Matehiya. It was the first time that the locals had an opportunity to have a public discourse with concerned authorities. The hearing, which concluded with a five-point declaration in order to improve access to government services, was well-attended by government authorities and representatives of the civil society and helped in promoting social cohesion and improving community security. In addition, in order to enhance the quality of service delivered, an Ilaka (area) Administration Office, which was relocated to Nepalgunj during the civil war, will now resume its operations in Matehiya. This will also aid the government’s Border Area Development Project (BADP) initiative that focuses on eight Terai districts, including Banke.
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