Eighteen-year-old Neha Gurung had dreams to become a doctor. But, when she went to submit her forms for her MBBS entrance exams, she was rejected. Neha was asked to submit her citizenship certificate, but she didn’t have one. So, she had to search for a subject course that didn’t require her to show citizenship papers and went on to get top marks in the Nepal Law Campus BA/LLB exams.
Neha’s mother Deepti Gurung (pic) has been fighting relentlessly to get her two daughters citizenship, but despite repeated visits to the ward office at Lalitpur, Deepti’s citizenship application still hasn’t been accepted.
“They say my husband’s citizenship, land ownership certificates and tax papers are required to approve my daughters’ birth certificates,” says Deepti whose husband walked out on her years ago.
Last year she had to take the fight to court when her younger daughter’s application for district level exams was turned down by the Department of Education, Lalitpur on grounds of failure to produce a birth certificate. It was only after the Supreme Court intervened that her daughter got to sit for her exams. However, Deepti is worried that after completing high school, she will also suffer the same fate as her sister’s.
Deepti who has been in the tourism business for the past 18 years, has had to abandon her job to devote full time to focus on her legal battle with the state. She filed a writ to procure citizenship certificate for her daughters, and the hearing is on 8 January.
“Let’s see what the Supreme Court’s decision is,” she says.
Although Nepal’s Interim Constitution 2006 and Nepal Citizenship Act 2006 provides for citizenship under the mother’s name, it remains largely unimplemented, leaving many like Deepti and her daughters without an identity, citizenship and travel documents.
Sami Thapa, a divorcee has been to the KMC ward number 29 office multiple times but even with her marriage registration certificate, divorce papers, copies of her ex-husband’s citizenship and her own citizenship in place, she has been unable to obtain an infant identity card for her son.
“They refused to issue the identification card saying that my husband will take my son once he turns 16,” says Thapa.
Diwakar Chettri, a well-known cartoonist also knows what it’s like to be humiliated by government authorities, when trying to get a citizenship through the mother.
“I applied for a citizenship certificate 23 years ago at District Administration Office, Lalitpur. But they humiliated me saying I was a child born to an unmarried mother,” says the 40-year-old, “After that I couldn’t muster the courage to go back there again.”
In the absence of a citizenship certificate he hasn’t been able to buy land, open a bank account, get a driving license or even continue his education. His case for a citizenship has been pending in the Supreme Court for the past two years.
Arjun Kumar Sah, 25, an MBA student at Himalayan White House College couldn’t go to Bangkok on an educational tour because he didn’t have a passport. Without a citizenship certificate, he will also not be eligible for internships at corporate houses.
“I don’t know what to do,” says Sah, who has been making the rounds of the District Administration Office in Mahottari ever since he turned 18. He filed a writ at the Supreme Court on February, 2013. His hearing is scheduled for 12 January this year and he has his fingers crossed.
It is not only the children of divorced mothers who are struggling to obtain citizenship certificates. Those born out of rape, prostitution and live-in relationships face the same difficulties. According to Menuka Thapa, president of Raksha Nepal, an NGO working for sexually exploited women and their children, most of Raksha Nepal children do not have birth certificates meaning it will be next to impossible to obtain a citizenship.
Watch Al Jazeera’s report on Nepal’s citizenship law
Nepal’s gender apartheid, Deepti Gurung
State of limbo, Rubeena Mahato
Some citizens are more equal than others
Macho nationalism, Mallika Aryal
In the name of the father, Rubeena Mahato