6-12 March 2015 #748

Being Nepali or becoming Nepali?

Nepal has one of the most progressive laws on gay and lesbian rights, but still treats its women as second-class citizens
Anjana Rajbhandary

Deepti Gurung’s older daughter had to give up her dream of being a doctor because the medical college would not admit her without a Nepali citizenship certificate. She doesn’t have one simply because Nepali law doesn’t allow citizenship in the name of the mother.

Nepal has one of the most progressive laws on gay and lesbian rights, but still treats its women as second-class citizens because children whose fathers are non-Nepali, who are raised by single mothers or whose mothers were victims of rape, are not eligible for citizenship.

Says Deepti: “People told me to get my daughter married or request the biological father to be able to get her citizenship. But I raised my daughter to be strong and independent, not needing a man for her identity. It is a crime not to provide citizenship to children of Nepali mothers, not just discrimination.”

If a Nepali woman is married to a foreigner, he has to give up his citizenship and wait 15 years to be considered, which does not always happen. During this process, their child is also unable to become Nepali.

Jorge, 32, also struggled to get his citizenship. He was born and raised in Nepal to a Nepali mother and a European father. He has applied for a passport, but is being given the run-around. “They gave me a list of Nepali male names and said pick one, but I couldn’t, so I don’t have a passport. It’s hard, but life is still beautiful and I will fight because I feel Nepali.”

The other category of children who are not eligible for citizenship are those whose mothers were victims of sexual assault, or if their husbands have abandoned them. Not having a citizenship leaves people in limbo: they are unable to get jobs, go to schools, and drive a car or travel.

Activists say there are about 4 million ‘stateless’ people in Nepal, and the numbers are multiplying because parents who cannot prove their citizenship are having children who are also not eligible to be Nepali. Many are not able to go abroad to work, or find jobs at home, and some are turning to crime and violence.

“Even refugees have an identity when they seek asylum, but many Nepalis who are born and raised in Nepal cannot call themselves citizens of Nepal because they are unable to provide proof of a Nepali father, this is outrageous,” says Gurung. “Earlier, citizenship was a right, now it has to be granted by the state. Women have been discriminated for centuries and this is an extension of patriarchy.”

Human rights lawyers point out that an abandoned child on the streets will be given citizenship by the state, but children with a Nepali mother cannot get their papers. Stateless people are not registered anywhere, so officially they do not exist.

Powerful politicians have refused to allow citizenship in the name of the mother because they say Nepal would be swamped by Indian men marrying Nepali women. However, this ‘nationalism’ argument falls flat because children of Nepali men who marry non-Nepali women can get citizenship over the counter.

Subin Mulmi of the Forum for Women, Law and Development says, “Till February 2014 there was not a single known case of a child born to a Nepali mother and a foreign father successfully acquiring their naturalised citizenship.”

Meanwhile, Deepti Gurung’s daughter is currently in law school, which does not require Nepali citizenship. She hopes to become a lawyer to fight for her rights, but she would still need a citizenship certificate to get a legal practicing license.

Read also:

Three-fourths of the sky, Editorial

In a stateless state, Mina Sharma

Nepal's gender apartheid, Deepti Gurung

Some citizens more equal than others, Damakant Jayshi

Macho nationalism, Mallika Aryal

State of limbo, Rubeena Mahato

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