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Publication Date : 12-02-2013
The demand for state recognition of various cultural and religious practices in Nepal has led to the establishment of a mosaic of new public holidays. The once month-long Dashain and Tihar holidays have been reduced to a few days each, while new additions have been made to include festivals celebrated by minority religious and cultural groups like the Christians, Muslims and Buddhists. Incorporating demands from various communities, Nepal has a slew of public holidays a year, including a total of 10 days for the celebraion of Hindu festivals Dashain and Tihar, three no-work days for women and eight marking various other days. And these are in addition to the 52 Saturdays and region and community-specific holidays. Furthermore, demands to add new holidays continue to grow each year as ethnic groups assert themselves. In such a context, it is not surprising that the Home Ministry (MoHA) failed to cut down on public holidays. Previous Ministry plans to cut back on holidays and implement a two-day weekend instead were stymied by fears of protests from various ethnic communities.
After the political upheaval of 2006 ushered in a republican secular Nepal, a vast array of changes took place in politics and society. One of the central themes of the changes being inclusion, governments since 2006 have been very careful to treat the cultures of various ethnic and regional groups with care. The adoption of new public holidays is, in essence, symbolic of those changes and the shift in political and social agendas to address inclusion. It was in the spirit of inclusion that the erstwhile Constituent Assembly, the body tasked to draft a new constitution, was created, for example, with 335 members elected through proportional representation from a variety of class and ethnic groups. Quotas for women and marginalised groups in various government bodies have also increased as a result of the changes. Accordingly, public holidays have also come to signify the diversity of the people. However, the government cannot forever go on granting public holidays to every group that demands them. After 2006, the ever-increasing number of holidays has created difficulties for both the government and service seekers. But amidst fears of ethnic backlash, the MoHA failed to reduce public holidays to 10 days a year.
Inclusion is by no means limited to the adoption of public holidays. It would be wiser for both the MoHA and the demanding groups to work towards insitutionalising inclusion in more productive ways. For example, one of the demands made by certain groups has been for primary education to take place in languages other than Nepali, which would make education more accessible to marginalised communities. That would go a long way in enabling students from marginalised groups to become equal competitors to their Nepali-speaking counterparts. Public holidays reflecting ethnic and religious diversity are important in that they are a symbol of state recognition but holidays alone are not going to ensure inclusion.