“Secularism is about freedom of religion and importantly also from religion. People should have the freedom to practice their religion or non belief as long as this does not violate the human rights of other individuals. It is the responsibility of the state to ensure this freedom”, Babu Gogineni, international director of the International Humanist Ethical Union (IHEU), said at the opening of the eighth International Humanist Youth Conference.
‘Secularism – the open door for human rights defense’, marks the 8th International Humanist Youth Conference. The conference, taking place from 21 to 25 October, in Kathmandu, Nepal, has brought together more than 60 youth leaders who promote human rights, secularism and Humanism at the local, national and international level. The conference is organised by the International Humanist and Ethical Youth Organisation (IHEYO) and the Society for Humanism (SOCH) of Nepal. The participants come from 9 different countries: Nepal, India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Belgium, Germany, Norway, Singapore and Australia. They discussed with political and social leaders of Nepal the drafting of the constitution and the importance of secularism in that constitution for protecting the freedom of and from religion for every individual.
Mr. Narahari Acharya, leader of Nepali Congress, said that: “technically Nepal is a secular state, but it is not practiced. The new state is continuing the religious tradition as practiced by the former king. Articulating secularism in a way that it will be implemented and practiced at all levels of the Nepal state is one of the major challenges in the drafting of the new constitution.” Mr Narendra Nayak, leader of the Federation of Indian Rationalist Association (FIRA) added that from his experience in India, the drafting of a secular constitution is a first step, but it is not enough to ensure a secularism in practice: “We need not only separation of religion and state, but also of politics and state. Now in India politicians try to use religion as a way to cater to the public. They use prayer as an official practice and allocate government money to religious purposes. And even judges in court refer to religion to judge cases, violating the human rights of lower castes”.
Mrs. Sapana Malla Pradhan, member of the constituent Assembly, talked about the position of women within the current law and the influence of religion: “It is women who are the biggest victims of religious groups. A research done into the current law showed that 180 articles discriminate women. Historically, Hinduism as part of the state legislature is not accepting to change these laws”. After listening and participating in the discussion during the Conference she committed to incorporate secularism, as freedom from and of religion, in the drafting of the constitution.
The challenges Nepal faces can be found in different forms around the world. This was the conclusion of the afternoon session where young Humanist leaders spoke about their work and challenges. The youth leaders discussed challenges around the world, from Singapore to Pakistan to Norway. In Pakistan Islamisation is turning women and other believers into second class citizen. In Norway the Humanists are offering alternative civil ceremonies, so that people who do not believe in religion can participate in life ceremonies around birth, coming of age, marriage and death. Ms. Marit Jacobsen said: “There is a lot of ignorance among people about the possibility to use alternative ceremonies”.
In the coming days the Conference participants will discuss what Humanism does for Dalits, women and other disadvantaged groups. How we can use social media and critical thinking in youth work as well as plan and brainstorm for joint actions. The IHEYO General Assembly is being held on 20 and 25 October.
Silvana Uhlrich, president of IHEYO concluded the first conference day by saying that: “There is a long way to go, but we are slowly making change as youth. We need to keep raising awareness on the universal implementation of human rights and the central role that secularism plays in human rights”.
Note for editors: For interviews and further information, you can contact: Mr. Uttam Niraula, IHEYO boardmember and SOCH officer, (+977) 9841 735882, or after the conference, Ms. Silvana Uhlrich, .