Writing Gendered Citizenship: Rights and Tactical Alliances in Nepal’s Constitution Drafting
A woman’s right to grant Nepali citizenship to her spouse and children has been a contested issue in both the first and second Constituent Assemblies. By exploring in detail the different dimensions of the numerous intersecting issues in the apparently simply issue of women and citizenship, this paper seeks to reveal the difficulties during Nepal’s transition period in generating sustained critique and changes of patriarchally structured rules and laws. It is argued that the specific history of exclusionary politics of the state vis a vis various excluded groups and the sexist and the regional/racist environment in which women’s groups and Madhesi groups in particular are embedded, mitigate against the forming of strategic alliances.
This paper will be divided into three main sections, each exploring a different aspect of the debate on citizenship through the mother. The first section will unpack the citizenship law as it appears in the Citizenship Act of 2006, the 2010 agreement on citizenship in the first CA, and drafts of the language around citizenship as proposed in the second CA. The consequences of these clauses on women and children will then be discussed as well as the demands for the rewriting of these clauses. The paper will then focus on the naturalization sub-clauses which create and reinforce gendered and patriarchal notes of citizenship; in both CA’s, the decision on citizenship through mothers has hinged on the naturalization sub-clauses.
A discussion of the socio-political context in which the text of the law circulates is then discussed. Key here is the language of national security used to give further weight to the gendered legal understanding of citizenship. A distinct mistrust of the open border and Madhesis is built into this argument. The bogeyman is an Indian takeover of Nepali politics in the form of Indian men marrying Nepali women from the Madhes – a common and longstanding practice in the Terai-Madhes. As per the gendered understanding of the Nepali state and citizenship, the children of these couples would necessarily also be Indian – commonly referred to as “bhanja-bhanjis” of Nepal. This section will seek to unpack both exclusionary urges of the law – against women and against Madhesis.
The third section of the paper will locate the political negotiations and compromises on these citizenship sub-clauses within the broader discussion on inclusionary politics in Nepal. This section will look to analyze the practical/political implications of the post-2006 rhetoric of placing together Madhesis, Women, Dalits and Janajatis in a single ‘marginalized’ category, without any further differentiation. While this practice is theoretically sound, the divide between women MPs and groups (most of them hill women) and Madhesi leaders on the issue of citizenship demonstrates the very real practical/political difficulties in forging alliances within the different streams of the ‘marginalized’ category.