Inside the ongoing struggle of Kathmandu Valley evangelicals to secure a cemetery and avoid cremation.
Death in a Christian home in the Kathmandu Valley brings more than just sorrow. It commences a family’s search for a way to bid a dignified goodbye to their loved one.
The biggest obstacle for mourners is finding a place to bury the dead in the Kathmandu Valley, a region in central Nepal that is home to the mountainous nation’s three largest cities and hundreds of smaller towns and villages. But despite its size, the area has no public cemetery for its Christian population, which numbers just over 100,000 according to the National Christian Community Survey report released in December 2022. (Kathmandu’s British cemetery includes only the remains of expatriates, and its Jesuit cemetery is no longer in use.)
“We can cremate our dead, but we cannot bury them,” said Suman Dongol, who manages Koinonia Patan church in Kathmandu.
Hindus, who comprise 81 percent of the population, cremate their dead. Nepali Muslims have access to two graveyards attached to their mosques in Kathmandu. (Among those who follow indigenous faiths are the Kirat, who comprise 3 percent of Nepal’s population and are said to be the earliest inhabitants of the Kathmandu Valley. They typically bury their dead but face a similar plight as local Christians.)
No known Christian existed in the country in 1951, when modern-day Nepal was founded and its young government prohibited proselytizing and conversion. A year later, however, Nepali Christians from India established the first Protestant church.
By the early 1970s, there were about 500 baptized Christians in the Hindu Kingdom. Evangelism efforts carried a possible criminal sentence of three years in prison—and successful evangelism, six years—but Christians continued …