Thursday, September 24, 2015

Making Unequal Citizens: Nepal’s denial of women’s identities has parallels in Sikkim

Women’s groups in Nepal are up in arms against unequal citizenship rights that even the new Constitution the country adopted on 20 September continues to perpetuate. Even as the new constitution appears to accord greater rights to women in terms of citizenship, in principle, the refusal to recognize women’s identity as completely detached from that of the Nepalese man remains.
The change that has been made in the new constitution is the requirement for children of Nepali women married to foreigners to be born in Nepal to gain naturalized citizenship. This has been removed and Article 12 of the new constitution allows for the citizenship certificate in either of the parents’ name and also carries their gender identity.
However, children of single Nepalese women must be born in Nepal to qualify for citizenship by descent while it is not so for children of Nepalese men. Children of Nepalese women married to foreigners can only obtain naturalized citizenship while children of Nepalese men married to foreigners get citizenship by descent.

It is difficult not to compare what is happening in Nepal to the scenario here in Sikkim, even though the scale does not quite match, both in terms of Nepal being a country and the denial here being even more absolute than in Nepal. Nepalese lawyer Sapana Pradhan Malla writes in a recent article on the issue, “for the children of Nepali citizens, there is a bias in their treatment based on their birth to a Nepali chhori or bideshi buhari”. In contrast, both, the Sikkimese daughter married to an outsider and outsider daughter-in-law are denied any citizenship rights here in our state.
It is also difficult to imagine that women in the state do not have a problem with this blatant denial of rights. There was a small group of women who raised the issue a few years back. Sadly, this group has since gone silent and so has the cause. Since then, the state has gone ahead and denied citizenship rights to women from outside the state married to Sikkimese men. [On 23 February, 2015, the Cabinet approved partial modification to Notification No. 66/Home/95 dated 22 November 1995 as amended pertaining to issue of Certificate of Identification and with it denied the provision of CoI to nonlocal women married to Sikkimese.] Oddly, many in the state including women are of the view that this has balanced things out.
A Sikkimese man does not lose his citizenship when he marries an outsider even if he follows her or his profession outside Sikkim, but a Sikkimese woman loses hers when she marries an outsider even if she continues to live in Sikkim and raises her children here. Children of Sikkimese women married to outsiders do not qualify for Sikkimese citizenship while children of Sikkimese men married to “outsiders” do. So, contrary to popular perception, the denial of citizenship rights to a ‘bideshi buhari’ has not really balanced things out, as it were.
The xenophobic argument proffered by those in power in Nepal is also used here - men from outside the state will ensnare Sikkimese women just to corner Sikkimese benefits. While this argument itself is preposterous in today’s day and age, where it fails remarkably is in reserving punishment only for women who “fall prey to the wiles of an outsider”.
Sikkimese men marrying outsiders as well as their children do not lose their citizenship [identity as Sikkimese] or property rights. The injustice against women could not be any clearer. It is nothing but the “privileging of the male bloodline over the female, of semen over ova” as Manjushree Thapa puts it in the Nepalese context.
And, we have not even begun to consider single motherhood in the state yet! While women in Nepal are raising their voice against the type of citizenship granted to children of single mothers, in Sikkim children born out of wedlock or those who are adopted by single women most often than not have their grandfather named as the father in official documents. This, because there is no provision in the state’s laws when it comes to identity and belonging regarding single women and their children.

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