Nepalgunj, western Nepal, is a place full of diversity where people from different religious backgrounds live together in harmony. There are people from Terai and Hills who are Hindu and Muslim. Despite the difference in their social and religious backgrounds, they have a strong bond with each other.
However, over the last few days, signs of social and religious disharmony emerged in the city. The city sensed the presence of a group with intentions to disrupt religious harmony and create tension between the Hindu and Muslim communities in the area. Nevertheless, the local Hindu and Muslim communities swiftly recognised their malicious intentions
To address the potential religious conflict in Nepalgunj, and mindful of national security, residents actively engaged in preserving harmony among the communities. In this endeavour, Hindu priest Chandranath Yogi and Maulana Jabbar Manjari stood united at the forefront, working together to resolve any discord among their respective communities.
Yogi is the head priest of the Bageshwori Temple and Manjari is a prominent Muslim religious leader. They both led a harmony rally on October 3 in Nepalgunj in response to the emerging social and religious disharmony.
Appeal to maintain peace
During the harmony rally, they urged the residents of Nepalgunj to uphold peace. Both leaders emphasised the importance of humanity in their speeches.
“The Hindu and Muslim communities have maintained a robust unity for a long time, and we aspire to continue this harmonious coexistence in the future,” said Yogi. “People with vested interests are trying to disrupt this. We will not let that happen.”
Manjari has also been spreading a similar message. Stating how Hindu and Muslim communities have been living in harmony, he urged people not to add fuel to the fire.
“This is a ploy to break us apart. It should not work as we once again want to celebrate Dashain together with our brothers and sisters,” he said.
But what caused the two religious leaders to join hands? What is happening in Nepalgunj that the District Administration Office had to impose a curfew?
Observers posit that the politicisation of caste and religion has led to the current situation. Despite the diverse religious backgrounds of its residents, Nepalgunj has long enjoyed a harmonious coexistence. The involvement of religious leaders from different faiths in each other’s events exemplifies this unity. Both religious and civil society leaders have worked diligently to foster and maintain these harmonious relationships.
During the Madhesh Movement of 2007, Nepalgunj witnessed communal violence among Madhesis, Pahadiyas (people from the hills) and Muslims. Later, to resolve the issue, the religious leaders of Hindus, Muslims, Buddhists, Christians and Sikhs formed a harmony committee. As a result, the communal violence stopped in Nepalgunj.
Friendship between Yogi and Manjari
Back in 2007 too, these two religious leaders— Yogi and Manjari— stood up to prevent communal violence. They made people aware of the groups who tried to create communal violence in Nepalgunj.
Currently, Yogi and Manjari are travelling on a joint motorbike tour across different areas of Nepalgunj. Their mission is to safeguard the community from any potential outbreak of communal violence. This dedicated effort exemplifies their commitment to upholding harmony.
These two religious leaders from the Hindu and Muslim communities have a strong friendship too. They frequently meet with each other and are seen together regularly.
During Hindu festivals, Muslims extend their wishes to Hindus, and likewise, during Muslim festivals, Hindus offer their best wishes to their Muslim counterparts.
In every potential conflict between the two religions, these two religious leaders have played a crucial role in finding resolutions.
Act of religious tolerance and action taken
There are chances of clashes between the Hindu and Muslim communities in Nepalgunj if the day of the immersion of the Durga idol and the Tajiya ceremony coincide on the same day. It is during such times that both religious leaders take an active role in mediating and resolving the issue.
In the last week of December 2016, a clash between two local communities resulted in the loss of two lives, with six others sustaining injuries. This incident occurred during the celebration of Mohammed Day in Matahiya, Banke, by the Muslim community.
As in previous instances, this time too, the two religious leaders took the lead in preventing a potential religious clash. They made earnest appeals to the security forces, administration, and civil society, urging them not to engage in any activities that might jeopardise religious harmony.
For the past six days, the peace and harmony of Nepalgunj have been disrupted. Tensions have flared between the Hindu and Muslim communities in the wake of controversial posts on Facebook. This has resulted in people from both communities resorting to stone-throwing and chanting hateful slogans.
To regain control, a curfew was enforced in Nepalgunj. A substantial number of security personnel have been stationed from BP Chowk and Tribhuvan Chowk to Triveni Mode and Ekalaini, areas primarily inhabited by Muslim and Madhesi communities.
Furthermore, the Nepali Army has been deployed to help manage the situation. The situation in Nepalgunj has somewhat stabilised following the imposition of the curfew and the reinforcement of security measures.
In all of this, the Hindu priest and the Muslim Imam continue to walk hand in hand, spreading the message of peace and asking people for calm in a time of chaos.
This story was translated from the original Nepali version and edited for clarity and length.