Every Nepali mother must be allowed to get Nepali citizenship as easily as a man, without if’s and but’s
Deepti Gurung with her daughter.
In 2013, on International Women’s Day, while struggling to acquire citizenship for my two daughters
, I went to meet Prime Minister Baburam Bhattarai. He told to wait for the constitution to be promulgated with new provisions on citizenship for the offspring of foreigners or single mothers.
It has been five years. There has been an earthquake, a blockade, three prime ministers and a new constitution. The past five years of activism for citizenship means that I had to give up my job, live in limbo, organise rallies, interviews, run around the Supreme Court, lawyers offices, government offices, and writing columns like these.
My younger daughter was nearly stopped from giving SLC examination because she did not have her birth certificate. I filed my case in Supreme Court and won at least for the birth registration, which was finally issued but in the name of ‘Mr Thegan Nabhaeko’ (Mr Unknown). I had married a childhood friend who was also struggling for citizenship through his mother, as his father had died when he was young. Five members of my current family are without citizenship, my two daughters, husband and two of his brothers.
Our demand is that every Nepali mother who is single and is raising her children without her husband’s support or any Nepali mothers who have married either foreigner or Nepali and who wishes her children to belong to Nepal must be allowed to do so without if’s and but’s -- just as easily as any Nepali man does.
Despite five years of activism, we felt like we were running against a stone wall. When we demanded ‘citizenship through mothers’, the politicians pretended they heard ‘citizenship to Indians’. We demanded ‘citizenship by descent to the children of Nepali women’, and they heard ‘full rights to naturalised citizens to become head of the state post’.
The new constitution mocked us, and deceived us. The leaders are deliberately misleading Nepalis out of paranoia, xenophobia and for their own petty interests.
If a Nepali man marries a foreign spouse then the foreign spouse can change her citizenship to Nepali and their offspring becomes Nepali by descent. But if a Nepali woman marries a foreign spouse then there is no clear provision as to how he can acquire Nepali naturalised citizenship. And their children may get naturalised citizenship which is in discretion to the state.
Moreover any Nepali woman who wishes to get citizenship for her children must present her husband’s citizenship. To go and receive a ready citizenship card at the CDO office, either the mother or father can go which is perhaps the only concessions we got for our five years of activism: changing the preposition to ‘or’.
If the mother is unable to identify the father of the child, there are reports that a citizenship can be acquired by descent only if mother agrees to file an application with the details of how the child is conceived. So, now our government wants to know who we had sex with?
The movement in the Madhes for citizenship is just an excuse. There are hundreds of Nepali Madhesi woman married to Indians. Their children were born and brought up here in Nepal. But the children are not considered Nepali and are stateless. But Madhesi leaders are more concerned about the rights for a naturalised citizen to be head of state. That is all they care about.
My elder daughter took up law because she was appalled by the injustice after being barred from giving her MBBS entrance exam. But if she doesn’t get Nepali citizenship within two more years she will not be able to sit for her Bar Exam. My younger daughter is worried she cannot get a passport to study abroad.
It is excruciating to see my daughters growing up without being able to spread their wings. If I had left my daughters on the streets when they were young they may have been citizens by descent by now. Their only hope to be A Nepali now is to marry someone so they can get citizenship through their husbands.
On International Women’s Day, I would like to disown this constitution and say that the fight goes on.