Has the high-level task force of the seven political parties, formed to settle disputes on the new constitution, erred in its decision of 4 November on citizenship?
I would like to believe that it was an uninformed error. For if it was deliberate, then none of the seven individuals on the high-profile panel deserve to hold public posts of any kind.
The panel has six communists (ok, one of them is an ex-communist) who fiercely project themselves as 'progressive'; the seventh member belongs to a centrist party. The panel had the opportunity to right the existing wrong in our laws, which do not treat a Nepali woman as equal to her male counterpart. But all it ended up doing was reinforcing age-old male chauvinist beliefs on treating women as inferior (and less nationalist).
Worse, they have even overturned far more progressive provisions in the Citizenship Act of 2006 and the Interim Constitution of 2007.
Take a closer look. The Citizenship Act says, "Any person born at the time of when his father or mother is a citizen of Nepal, shall be a citizen of Nepal by descent"(emphasis mine). Ditto the Interim Constitution, which says that a person is deemed to be a citizen of Nepal by descent "whose father or mother was a citizen of Nepal at his or her birth"(emphasis mine).
Now compare this with what the task force came up with on 4 November. To acquire citizenship by descent, "both (a person's) father and mother have to be citizens of Nepal" (emphasis mine).
The nonsense doesn't end here. In an attempt, ostensibly, to provide naturalised citizenship to foreigners marrying Nepalis, the task force has given continuity to what is clearly discrimination against Nepali women.
A foreign man marrying a Nepali national has to stay in Nepal for at least 15 years on a regular basis if he wants Nepali citizenship, the panel proposed. However, a foreign woman marrying a Nepali citizen can acquire Nepali citizenship as soon as she produces evidence that she has started the process of relinquishing her existing citizenship.
Love for foreign women? Doubtful. Based on the notion that a Nepali woman is inferior? Certainly.
"This has challenged a woman's right to marriage, to marry the person of her choice, her right to family, her right to choose her place of residence, and more importantly, the rights of her children and their right to choose citizenship," says Sapana Pradhan Malla, a Constituent Assembly member and women's rights activist.
The reintroduction of the discarded discriminatory provisions for Nepali women will have a direct bearing on her children, who will be deemed naturalised citizens as opposed to being citizens by descent.
Should this differentiation matter? Yes, because of another decision on the subject by the task force.
Naturalised citizens will not be entitled to occupy certain top posts in the federal or provincial governments. The head of state, deputy head of state, prime minister, chiefs of the federal legislature (speaker) and judiciary (chief justice), chiefs of security agencies, and governors and deputy governors must be citizens by descent.
There's still more. The task force has differentiated between Nepalis living in foreign lands as well.
Non-resident Nepalis who have acquired foreign citizenship after relinquishing their Nepali nationality can get citizenship provided they live outside South Asia. What is the problem with non-resident Nepalis with foreign citizenship in South Asia? Less affluent and wealthy? Lacking clout? Narrow meaning of 'non-resident Nepali'? The task force hasn't given any reasons.
It will be a real shame if these provisions are allowed to be incorporated into the new constitution. The task force has squandered an excellent opportunity. But what about the rest of us?
I wonder what the Caucus of Women MPs, women's rights organisations, and civil society will be doing about this.