Equality vs. Nationalism Debate: citizenship ID and other contentious issues of constitution making in Nepal!

Sunil Babu Pant/ January 4 – Nepal has operated without a proper Constitution for some years and it is essential that it be drafted to ensure the rights of all citizens. In a draft provision in the Constituent Assembly (CA), which is writing Nepal’s new constitution, current language provides that both parents have to be Nepali for a child to be a citizen. This would prevent women from passing on their citizenship rights to their children.

Nepalese laws and policies are, so far, reflection of the values based up on patriarchy and it always has had this restrictive law. But in 2006, the Citizenship Act of 2006 explicitly states that women can pass on their citizenship to their children. The Act was ambiguous and weak but it was still a step forward, which was not implemented by conservative officials.

In 2011, the Supreme Court made a decision that Sabina Dhami, a young girl whose father was never identified, was a Nepali citizen on the basis of her mother’s citizenship. This case should have set a precedent for other such cases, but chief district officers, who sign citizenship ID cards out, say that the Supreme Court’s decision is not good enough.

The practice is that every Nepali who wants to get citizenship ID card has to show a proof of his or her father’s citizenship. Many fathers, who are not happy with their children’s mothers or the child is born outside of marriage or due to rape, do not want to give citizenship to all their children because the document results in rights to property and inheritance. This leaves some 4.3 million Nepalis in a stateless condition where they “cannot register birth, go to college, apply for job, file for a change of address, buy or sell land, acquire a passport, open bank accounts, register to vote or even get a mobile phone card” (seehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/03/stateless-nepal )

The way the new (draft) constitutional provision for citizenship ID is worded, men continue to be given preferences over women’s rights. On the one hand and positively, foreign or stateless women married to Nepali men can immediately get Nepali citizenship. Their children can readily be granted Nepali citizenship. But, for a Nepali woman married to a foreigner, or who has been deserted by her Nepali husband, or for a single mother, the option to grant her children the birthright of being a Nepali citizen does not exist. Already there are over four million stateless people in Nepal, and the new constitution/law, when passed as currently proposed, will surely increase that number.

And this is just one example of how so many Nepalese are struggling to address and overcome many other similar social, cultural, political or legal disparities during this much prolonged ‘transitional’ period and opportunity created after 2006’s popular movement in Nepal.

Since 2008, while Nepal is struggling to compile a new Constitution, women are demanding the simple and same right accorded to men, to be able to provide citizenship under their name to their children. Yet, perversely, some ‘men at high level’ are reluctant to grant such provision saying it’s not just a question of equality but more so of national interest. Yet gender equality IS in our national interest.

Some men who are in the decision making position argue that if a women alone allow to pass the citizenship ID to their children then all the foreign seed will sprout in Nepal and Nepal will be overwhelmed by foreigners and that “true Nepalese” will become a minority in Nepal. Yet a man who marries a foreign national is exempt from such concerns: profoundly hypocritical and perverse.

Many, not only women, but also others who believe in equality are supporting women’s rights to pass citizenship to their children under their name. This should be a simple question about equality not a perversely framed question about nationalism. When men enjoyed all the rights including passing the citizenship ID to their children only through their name it was never been a question of nationalism, so why, a woman having right to pass citizenship ID to her children under her name become a question of (threat to) nationalism? If this hypocrisy somehow preserves some notion of a “nation,” where does that leave us on the world stage?

So what is nationalism? Who defines what it is to be a Nepali? Is it these men with their narrow definition of nationalism based on traditions of inequality the only standard? How is this sexist view relevant to women? To third genders? Or perhaps we should adopt a Hindu’s definition of nationalism—begging the question of how that would be relevant to other religious minorities in Nepal?  Or perhaps a high caste’s definition of nationalism should be embraced—yet how would that be relevant to “scheduled caste” people? Is a Kathmandu or Pahade-based people’s definition of nationalism relevant to people who belong to Madesh and Himal? Is ruling class’s definition of Nationalism relevant to people who are ruled and oppressed?

This is the critical question Nepal needs to explore. There is, perhaps, no simple, single definition of nationalism that is relevant and acceptable to all. Nepal, has it has long been, is a PLURALITY and our Constitution should be rooted in equality for all our citizens. And perhaps we need to focus on our notion of how the Constitution views the citizens, rather than the adoption of quant notions of nationalism.

While drafting a new constitution, a focus on nationalism should be based on devotion to love of one’s country either by birth or by choice which focuses upon the attitudes that the members of a nation have when they care about their national identities and actions that the members of a nation take when seeking to achieve some form of national unity and political sovereignty.

For Nepal, as we don’t suffer foreign occupation, our nationalism is best served by our objection and rejection to internal oppression rather than external domination.  The nation becomes weak in a true sense when equality and civil rights are denied to its citizens.  In Nepalese society, until today, the extant system denies the majority of us the scope for the growth of the sentiment of equality and fraternity that are essential for a modern nation. Many people are still deprived of their basic human rights. Our government should respond to the will and needs of the people and heed the call for constitutional safeguards to protect the oppressed. While the cultural organization of Nepalese society is divided by gender, caste, ethnicity, sexual orientation, language, religion, geography, the law must not fall prey to the ways those differences consist of ascending degrees of reverence and descending degrees of contempt.

Yet despite realizing the necessity of removing some social evils, through interim constitution, which has horrified the lives of downtrodden people, the new power dynamics (of the same previous ruling class, minus the king) – as a form a new constituent assembly’s attitude is indifferent to eradicating some social evils simply because of the reason that trying to change any existing code of social and economic life would change the political, social, religious, gender and economical dynamics and the ruling class, caste, gender, language, geography would have to lose their historic grip over the power, privilege and economy of the country. What should guide lawmakers is a sense of fairness and justice for ALL citizens, regardless of these societal constraints.

These kinds of oppression and discrimination provoking resistance time to time in Nepal, when the resistance is picking up, the ruling class gives a way some rights and resources to the oppressed people, but not full equality and rights. Yet over the next few years, the ruling class backtracks which in turn provokes another resistance. Such attitudes and practices of giving some degree of equality and some rights, followed by taking them back are making the country economically, socially, politically and spiritually weak. When a majority of people struggle for centuries for justice and basic rights, they cannot contribute to national economy, they cannot contribute to social, cultural, environmental and scientific development. This fact makes country weak and put a country into a vulnerable position in terms of its national security, as well.

Nationalism for us should embrace the spirit of dignity, both for the people and for the country because these two are one. The people are CITIZENS.  An argument that women having rights to pass citizenship ID to her children under her name would compromise national security is unsupported, perverse and is simply a reflection of a sexist and alarming attitude. An attitude that believes men are entitled to greater reverence and women to more contempt.

Similarly, if one believes Madhesis and Janajati wanting ‘a bit of self-rule and autonomy’ is anti-nationalism, this is simply the reflection of the same attitudes that some people are entitled to greater reverence and others are more contempt. If granting rights and equality to sexual minorities supposedly compromises national security, national traditions, economy or development, you are simply reflecting the beliefs that heterosexual people deserve entitlement to greater reverence and homosexuals and third gender are more contempt. Similarly if you argue ‘how can a Dalit be a priest of Hindu temple?’ you are reflecting your beliefs that high caste people are entitled to greater reverence and Dalits are more contempt. And list can go on. There is no BASIS for any of these arguments beyond simple bigotry.  

If you are a true nationalist and devote your love to Nepal, then you must attempt to end the culture and practice of ‘ascending degree of reverence and descending degree of contempt’ that has been practiced in Nepal for so long and causing Nepal to become one of the poorest countries in the world. When you have so many people oppressed, you cannot expect prosperity and peace.  Humanism and Nationalism are two sides of the same coin, goes hands in hand together, cannot be separated.  For prosperity and peace every one’s dignity, value and equal rights must be guaranteed to ALL of Nepal’s citizens. Our Constitution must reflect THESE values, that leave room for people to live their lives and contribute to our Nepal as equals.

source : http://setopati.net/opinion/4931/