How do you identify someone as a Nepali citizen? Do they have to look a certain way, carry certain surnames, speak certain tongues, and have certain biological attributes? Why do we so easily embrace Prashant Tamang (an Indian national) and Dibesh Pokharel (now an American one), yet shun another equally talented singer Preeti Kaur, who has not gotten Nepali citizenship despite being born in Nepal four decades ago and despite being married to a Nepali national? Perhaps she was born into the wrong gender, came with a wrong skin tone, and bore the wrong surname. Not that Tamang or Pokharel are now Nepali citizens or Kaur can’t ever be one. It’s more a question of the mindset of our lawmakers.
An amendment to the citizenship law stipulates that a woman married to a Nepali man must live in Nepal for at least seven years to be eligible for citizenship. With a Nepali woman married to a foreign man, the latter has no chance of ever getting a Nepali citizenship. True, nearly all countries have restrictions on citizenship, including cooling-off periods. A person who has identified as a citizen of one country all her life cannot shift her loyalty to another country she marries into overnight. But why seven years? The common answer is that India has the same provision. This is dubious. Most of us who identify as the most patriotic Nepalis are also often the most strident anti-Indians. Yet when drafting the country’s most important laws, we nonchalantly borrow from the south.
Seven years is a long time. If we are a progressive country, why can’t our ideal be, say, Canada (three years for naturalization) rather than India? It is also misogynistic to dissuade, even implicitly, Nepali women from marrying the men of their choice. Whatever gloss they may try to put over it, this is a sign that our predominantly male parliament still believes in inherent superiority of men over women and is thus looking to preserve the age-old patriarchal privileges. The proposed amendments to the citizenship law are in violation of the constitutional norm that proscribes discriminations based on caste, gender and ethnicity. Nepal has made some progress in gender equality in recent times. But it is far from an equal place for men and women.