Vietnam government should return the Cham Towers to the Chams in light of the URP - Dân Làm Báo

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Vietnam government should return the Cham Towers to the Chams in light of the URP

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Glang Anak / Translated by Jasmine Tran (Danlambao) On 5 February 2014, in Geneva, the Universal Periodic Review process on the status of human rights in Vietnam took place. Here, a representative of the Vietnamese Government Committee for Religious Affairs asserted: “The Vietnamese government consistently respects, ensures and creates enabling conditions for all people to exercise the freedom of religion and belief. The new Constitution has recognized these rights.”

Another talk occurred on 29 January 2014 between EU institutions and the human rights defenders of the Civil Society Organizations from Vietnam. Here, a representative from Italy put forward a question: “How do human rights abuses, harsh rules, and suppressions affect ethnic minorities, and other powerless and vulnerable people?”

Blogger Nguyen Anh Tuan strongly contended that such people are the most affected by human rights violations from the government. The examples he gave were the Hmong cases and Central Highlands ethnic minorities.

Today, we express concern regarding another violation to the freedom of religion and belief of an ethnic community, occurring on their ancestral homeland. We contemplate the possibility of “returning the Temple Towers to the Chams and their high priests, to allow them to fully practise their religion and administer these Towers”.

All religions have their sacred sites to worship and exercise ceremonial rituals. If Buddhists have Buddhist Temples, Christians have Churches, so the Balamon Hindu Chams (or Brahmanic Hindu) should have their Towers too. This belief originated at the time Champa was an independent empire, and its religious significance continues to this day.

However, due to recent events the Balamon Hindu Chams cannot freely visit their towers to practise their rituals and beliefs, as all the Cham Towers are now under government management.

For the Chams, “the Tower is a sacred place that opens its doors only on days of ceremonies or festivals. Every year, according to the calendar of the Chams, the Ahier Chams celebrate the ‘Open Door Ceremony’ led by Po Adhia, Po Bac, Basaih, Ong Camnei, Muk Pajuw, and Ong Kadhar. The ceremony can only proceed once all these high priests are present, then the Tower’s door will be open.”

Prior to 1975, under the Republic of Vietnam government, the Cham Towers were all managed by the Cham high priests, who organized religious ceremonies following strict traditional rituals.

After 1975, all the Cham Towers were taken over by the government, who granted tourist companies administration rights and the opportunity to exploit the Towers as tourist destinations. The Cham high priests and Cham people wishing to practise their religion in the Towers must apply to the government for permission; the task requires very complicated paperwork. In addition, to pray in a Tower, the Cham people also have to buy entrance tickets.

What happened at the Po Klaong Garai Cham Towers on 4 February 2014 proved that the Ninh Thuan government violated the Chams’ right to freedom of religion and belief. On that day, when the group of high priests gathered at the main Tower to start the “Open Door Ceremony” (Peh Ba-mbeng Yang), the Tower’s main door was already opened for tourists on the Lunar New Year occasion. This was despite the Balamon Hindu Committee already having completed procedures requesting the government to leave the doors closed until the sacred ritual had been done. The ritual lasts only an hour. Even more pertinent, the high priests were very distressed seeing “tourists in inappropriate clothing with uncultured manners posing for pictures at the sacred Towers, and carelessly wandering around the ceremonial site”.

The Tower’s door was wide open before the ‘Open Door Ceremony’ was completed

The Chams believe “the event reflected an uncultured attitude that insulted the Cham traditional religion, offended the local heritage rituals, and was not accepted by the Cham community”.

Cham ritual at the Tower

A Cham writer has expressed in pessimistic anger: “with events throughout history, Cham people have lost everything. All they have today are the Cham Towers for them to worship, to conduct traditional religious practices fulfilling their duty to their ancestors. But those who take advantage of these Towers show themselves as uncultured and ungrateful people. While they collect hundreds of millions of dong by selling entrance tickets, they are not concerned at all by the requests of the Religious Committee and of the notable Abbot of the Po Klaong Garai Tower, by allowing a few hours for the Chams to conduct their ceremony.”

Ong Camnai discussing with the Tower’s guard as a request letter was already sent, but the Tower’s door was already open before the Cham ceremony.

Justice must be brought back, and Freedom of Religion and Belief be respected for the Chams:

1. If the Buddhist Vietnamese can go the Buddhist Temples, the Christian Vietnamese to the Churches, so the Cham must have the right to visit their Towers - without having to buy entrance tickets.

2. If the Buddhist monks, nuns, and the Buddhist followers have the right to manage and conduct their Temples, if the Christian priests can manage their Churches, so the Cham Towers must be returned to Cham high priests to be managed, looked after, and conducted suitably to the Cham religious beliefs and rituals.

3. If the government seeks to exploit these Towers for the tourism industry, they must arrange the process with Cham dignitaries and the Cham people. However, the respect of traditional ceremonies must be prioritised.

4. If the Hanoi government continues to “force” the Cham Towers to be a primarily tourist destination, as they are doing, they are violating sacred Cham worship sites. In doing so they are preventing and abusing the right to freedom of religion and belief of the Chams, and thus, the government has violated human rights.

5. The Local Religious Committee and local government where the Towers are located must have the responsibility to solve this problem and to give back the right to freedom of religion and the right to manage the Towers to the Cham high priests.

The fair requests and suggestions above from the Cham people contribute to building a more equal, free, and democratic society in Vietnam.


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