Sabina doesn't know who her father is and went to court after the district office repeatedly turned down her request for citizenship citing absence of the father. The verdict came as a ray of hope for many Nepalis who have been refused citizenship because of a discriminatory law that makes a father's citizenship mandatory for an offspring to be eligible for citizenship. It is not enough for the mother to be a Nepali.
The Supreme Court ordered the Home Ministry to immediately start giving out citizenship certificates also based on a mother's papers. The ministry sent letters to all district administrations to that effect, but most districts still ask mothers to bring their husbands' citizenship papers, marriage certificates and official letters proving the child was born to the father.
R. Gurung is unable to get citizenship for her daughter because the Lalitpur District Administration Office has refused to act on the Supreme Court's directive. The office says it hasn't got the letter from the court. Her daughter is appearing for SLC exams this year and will need citizenship papers for further studies. "How long should I wait?" asks Gurung. "I gave birth to my daughter in Nepal but can't get her Nepali citizenship."
Meera Dhungana, the lawyer who fought the case of Sabina Damai says district administrations are defying the court's order. "How can some district offices get the letters and others not?" she asks. "They are not willing to believe that a woman can give her name to her children."
S. Rai, 65, has spent most of her life trying to get Nepali citizenships for her sons who are over 40. Her husband committed suicide soon after marriage, and his family disowned her. Rai raised her two sons by herself, and made sure they were well educated. But now can't get proper jobs, or own businesses or property.
Many women are now seeking citizenship papers through illegal channels. "They are forcing women like us to commit a crime out of desperation," Shrestha says, "is this the nationalism they are trying to protect?"
Dhungana says the Supreme Court has given a very clear verdict, and adds: "It is now up to the state to act on it."
(Some names of mothers in this story have been changed at their request.)
WHO CAN BE CITIZEN?
According to the new draft provision in the new constitution, these are the criteria for citizenship. Lawyers say this is more regressive than existing laws.
Both mother and father have to be Nepali citizens for the children to get citizenship by descent. The Interim Constitution accepts the presence of either parent.
Children born of a Nepali and foreigner parent will not be eligible for Nepali citizenship unless the foreigner parent renounces his/her previous citizenship. In case they refuse to do so, the children will risk being stateless.
A child born of a Nepali mother but whose father's status is unknown will not be eligible for citizenship.
Children born in Nepal whose parents are unknown will get citizenship by descent but if one of the parents is discovered to be a non-Nepali, their citizenship will change to 'naturalised'.
A Nepali woman's foreigner husband will have to live in Nepal for 15 years on a regular basis before being considered for Nepali nationality whereas the foreigner wife of a Nepali husband will get Nepali citizenship as soon as she relinquishes her foreign citizenship.
Stateless in a mother's land
In the name of the father, RUBEENA MAHATO
The Nepali state still does not recognise maternal lineage as a basis for citizenship
Stateless in their motherland, KUNDA DIXIT
Citizenship provisions in the new draft constitution reek of paranoia and pseudo-nationalism
Nepali Times spoke to advocate Meera Dhungana who fought the legal battle for Sabina Damai to get a citizenship on her mother's name
Dhungana: Nothing except entrenched patriarchal biases. The Supreme Court has already given its verdict. The authorities should provide citizenship on the mother's name without asking for the father's papers.
What is the legal recourse for mothers who have been turned down by the district office?
I suggest they take a copy of the Supreme Court verdict on Sabina Damai and show the authorities. If the officials still don't cooperate, they can file a contempt of the court's case against the district administration.
The new draft provisions on citizenship have made it even more difficult for women to get citizenship rights for their children.
It is really unfortunate and proves that women have never been equals in this country. There is a fundamental flaw in Nepal's citizenship laws. If my husband can make me a citizen of this country, why can't I confer the same on him? Is the government telling us that women are less nationalistic than men? Individuals should be able to get citizenship on either father's or mother's name without discrimination.