25 year old Arjun Shah lives in a boarding house in Kathmandu. In his room hangs a white t-shirt. In red bold letters it says “where is our citizenship?”
“I made 500 of these t-shirts and distributed them to my friends. I wear these in every protest,” said Arjun.
Arjun has been visiting government offices for almost nine years trying to get Nepalese citizenship.
“They want my father’s citizenship card. But he doesn’t have one because he move to Nepal from India. My mother has a citizenship certificate. But they will not accept it and shout ‘go away’ to me,” said Arjun.
Life without citizenship is tough- you cannot legally get a driving license, open a bank account, take out a loan or buy land.
Arjun said it’s stopping him from getting a job.
“I was ranked first in the recruitment process at a bank. In the interview, he asked me to show my citizenship card. When I said, I don’t have one, he literally threw my certificate at me, and said you are not Nepali. You must be Indian,” recalled Arjun.
The Interim Constitution made in 2007 clearly states that ‘any person whose father or mother was a citizen of Nepal at his or her birth is a Nepalese citizen.
But in practice, women in this patriarchal society still face a lot of discrimination when passing down citizenship to their children, especially in the absence of the father or if the father is not a Nepali citizen.
There is estimated 4.3 million Nepalese living without citizenship.
Deepti Gurung is a single mother of two daughters. Her boyfriend left her when she was pregnant.
“It was me, a girl of 18 year old that decided that I am going to give birth to this child, no matter what, with or without a father. It doesn’t matter. I have struggled throughout my life to bring up my daughter with pride, not with the sorry look on my face, I rejoiced, celebrated my daughter’s birth,” said Deepti.
Now Deepti’s elder daughter Neha is 18 year old. She wants to study to become a doctor. But without citizenship that will be very difficult.
“When I was filling a form at school. I had to fill in the parent’s name. I said is it okay if I just put my mother’s name? They said, what kind of person are you? You even don’t know your father’s name”.
Deepti wants to know why her daughter is being treated as a second class citizen: “These people are saying, if you have already given birth to a child why is it shameful to disclose who the father is? I’m not ashamed. I am disgusted. I don’t want to associate the gentleman who didn’t take the responsibility of me and my child.”
The Constituent Assembly, the body writing Nepal's new constitution, has been debating the issue.
Former Prime Minister and Assembly member Madhav Kumar believes mother should not have the same rights as fathers: “It’s not possible because we cannot provide citizenship to any people who can come to Nepal to be the citizen of Nepal. Then what happens after 50 years?”
The issue of identity is a sensitive and controversial one in Nepal. Many politicians fear an influx of people from India.
But Sabin Shrestha, the executive director of the Forum for Woman, Law and Development says it is really an issue of male control.
“They think if they give equal rights to women in terms of citizenship, then the patriarchy system will be destroyed,” said Sabin.
Nepal is a week away from the pre-determined date to disseminate the new constitution.
The provision on citizenship will determine if it’s equal to all.
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