Nepali Times
Mother country

When the Constituent Assembly expired two weeks ago, there was disappointment but also relief at having put off a decision on ethno-federalism that was sure to leave everyone unhappy.

But federalism, governance and the proposal of a constitutional court were not the only contentious issues in the draft. There was also the pending problem of citizenship rights which has now been pushed back again.

Ten per cent of Nepal's population doesn't have citizenship, and it now looks like they will remain indefinitely stateless. Worse, without the requisite laws in place, the number of Nepalis deemed not to be Nepali will continue to grow.

Nepal's political leaders wanted a "revolutionary constitution", and they had no qualms about supporting provisions that would have effectively torn the country apart. They have also been ultra-progressive in espousing secularism, gay rights, and legislating against caste-based discrimination. But sadly, when it comes to ensuring something as fundamental and universal as equal citizenship rights for women, the attitude of our male-dominated politicians has been - to put it mildly -primitive, patriarchal and chauvinistic.

There are many levels of discrimination entrenched in Nepali society, but women of all castes and creeds face double ostracisation. Our citizenship laws have always been backward, but the draft provision in the new constitution was even more regressive than the interim constitution. Only children of a Nepali mother and a Nepali father would have been eligible to citizenship. What's wrong with that, you may ask, because it puts the father and mother on an equal footing. But it is clear that these new laws have been proposed to deter children of non-Nepali fathers from becoming Nepali citizens.

A foreigner woman marrying a Nepali man gets citizenship almost immediately, and their children get citizenship by descent. But the process is endlessly complicated for a foreigner man marrying a Nepali woman. Such a blatantly unfair clause was very nearly enshrined in our constitution had it been passed on 27 May. Our "progressive" politicians were too busy haggling over state structure and forms of governance to notice.

Far from solving the citizenship crisis, the draft constitution would have created more stateless people: children who can't prove both parents are Nepali, children whose either parent fails or refuses to get Nepali citizenship, children who cannot identify either of their parents, children whose fathers refuse to sign papers, adopted children. The pain of becoming stateless in one's own country is not limited to the denial of personal identity. Without a citizenship certificate, people cannot own property, run businesses, travel abroad, get higher education, or take jobs.

The state can't bring itself to accept matrilineal lineage to also be a basis for citizenship, and therefore punishes its own people. Our leaders may have been revolutionary, they may have mobilised women to fight and die for liberation, but it is clear that their notions of gender rights are medieval. Only the Taliban treats women worse.

Politicians and bureaucrats are opposed to equal citizenship rights mainly because of a fear that millions of Indian men will cross the open border to marry our women en masse and become Nepali citizens. While such things may have happened and citizenship fraud is still rife, the way to control it is by greater vigilance, not by barring millions of genuine Nepalis from being accepted in their own country. Is our nationalism so paranoid, our sense of nationhood so insecure and fickle that we punish our own children?

Given the open border with India and a bureaucracy not known for honesty, Nepal has to be sensitive about citizenship procedures. But this can, and should, be done without including openly discriminatory provisions in the new constitution, if it is ever written.

Read also:
Not breaking news, ANURAG ACHARYA
The 'national' media has no time for the personal tragedy of the poorest villages of Nepal's poorest districts

Stateless in new Nepal, GEORGE VARUGHESE and PEMA ABRAHAMS
Inclusion without citizenship is impossible

1. Bikas Rana
Uneducated and idiotic leaders like Dahal, what can we expect. Its useless to talk about fairness in Nepal, a country and society immersed in discrimination and injustice, full of ego and totally devoid of compassion and honesty. I would be quite happy at this moment in time and history for  ex king to make another move to restore the Kingship, why, because then the current crop of looters can be jailed and whipped. Democracy is not working for Nepalis, a dictator or military rule will be better. That way, at least we can have peace and rule of law, if nothing else.         

2. gurkha

Restore monarchy  immediately .

Poorly researched and written article. Sometimes I wonder if I am wasting my  time coming to this site and reading half-baked articles that do nothing but take my pride of being a nepali for a few menosec or worse mislead people.

Where/when will it end? Honestly I am rooting in a few years the Nepalis will be SO cornered and frustrated in their country that they be forced to rise to the call of the national patriotism (where will it comes from is Yet to be seen) to come out in the street riots and partake in public flogging, spitting, abusing, and eventual hanging  of the fraudsters leaders who are cheated, looted and played with the Nepali Pride. That is where I think it is headed.

On the topic:

Citizenship is a subjective matter of the state no two countries in the world are alike in their characters and challenges. Each country will have to take note of their own peculiar realities and compulsions  while granting citizenships.  The writer seems to think the citizenship should be seen and dealt with purely on the grounds of equality, discriminations and charity. Though I don't think even USA, Japan, Italy or even India grants citizenship purely on the grounds of such principles and certainly not on marriage but look into other factors before granting citizenship --- definitely they will think twice if the American, Japanese woman is illiterate and gullible. Considering the nepali borer is brimming or accused to be infested with terrorist activities due diligence must be done before granting citizenship purely on the grounds of "Liberalism" "New Nepal" or "EQUALITY" .  

Another point of STATELESSNESS. if a Nepali woman marries outside her country, I am assuming she will qualify for a citizenship of the country of her husband, just like a foreigner woman who marries a nepali man will get Nepali citizenship. So why should she be forced to get Nepali citizenship? Not to forget the problems of dual citizenships and a drain on national welfare schemes.

Lets not forget- Nepali citizens are BEYOND the scope and reach of welfare plans and schemes in other countries and are actively discriminated and discouraged to seek help in government  sponsored schemes. Go to the border area with India where Nepalis are treated badly and sometimes jailed for using state sponsored services.

I think the writer would do well to highlight the specific cases where someone is genuinely discriminated, treated unfairly, and robbed on citizen rather than asking for a blanket citizenship drive to legalise illegal immigrants who are nothing but parasites on national resources and polity.

3. Rekha Sharma
Nepali society is a male dominated society ! Nepali men suffer from false pride and false ego. They talk too much, and work less, or hardly work. But they like to bark orders to other people. The Bahuns take the 1st prize in this category.  All big shot leaders are males. A a man fails in his duty he is given a pass, if a woman fails, she is severely punished. Nepali society lives in darkness. There is no room  for justice and fairness. Nepali women need to be assertive and fight for leadership roles. My final thought is that Neapli women are more smarter than Nepali men. We need woman P M to fix all the problems created my the male Bahun P Ms. Can any deny this truth???      

4. Paul Krugman
Baidya and Dahal are really secret lovers. You should see them "lal salaam" together!

5. JS, Kathmandu

Thank you NT for continuing to publicise this critical issue. The idea of punishing children because of their origins is absolutely deplorable. The state is basically saying that if one if your parents is foreign then they are somehow impure and can never be considered a true Nepali.  In today's multi-cultural and fluid world, such reactionary and atavistic attitudes are quite shocking. 

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)