Police intervention in establishing Buddha idol in Surkhet constitute serious violation of cultural rights of local indigenous peoples

Lawyers’ Association of Human Rights of Indigenous Peoples (LAHURNIP) expresses its grave concerns about the alleged police intervention in the course of establishing idol of Buddha in Kakrebihar (Kakre Monastery) located within a protected forest area in Surkhet district in mid-western Nepal. LAHURNIP concludes that the act constitutes serious violation of cultural, spiritual and religious rights of local indigenous peoples of Buddhist faith enshrined under the Interim Constitution of Nepal vis-à-vis international human rights instruments, including International Labour Organization Convention 169 and United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP).  

According to the received information from NEFIN Surkhet district council, the local authorities had earlier provided consent for establishment of an 18-feet tall Buddha idol in the monastery and indigenous and local people on Saturday had taken out a procession to institute the idol at the monastery on Friday to mark 2557th Buddha Jayanti, birth anniversary of Lord Buddha celebrated on full moon day of the month of Baisakha as per lunar calendar. However, the police suddenly obstructed in the procession saying that the institution of the idol in the forest required governmental decision. 

The police brutally baton charged participants of the procession and seized and damaged the idol of Buddha and even fired few rounds of tear gas. Scores were injured in the scuffle, including 4 policemen. LAHURNIP calls for immediate and impartial inquiry into the situation in the district and free medical treatment to those injured in the scuffle. Further, it appeals the Government to carry out dialogue between indigenous peoples and local authorities in order to install the idol in the monastery.

Furthermore, the Interim Constitution of Nepal 2007 states: “Nepal is an independent, indivisible, sovereign, secular, inclusive federal democratic republican State.” However, the Surkhet incident and legal prohibition on cow-slaughter that prevent indigenous peoples and non-Hindu communities from free practice of their cultural and spiritual ceremonies threatens the secularity of the Nepali state. LAHURNIP strongly urges the State to ensure equal respect of all religions and faith of Nepal in its laws and practice.

Advocate Shankar Limbu