Youths ask: ‘Our parents are Nepalis. Who are we?’They hit the streets after the Supreme Court on June 4 prevented the enforcement of amended citizenship law.
Aama Nepali Buwa Nepali, Hami Chai Kahako?
[Mother and father Nepali, where are we from?]
So read one of the placards that a group of youths displayed during a demonstration in Kathmandu on Tuesday. They were up in arms demanding a speedy implementation of the recently-endorsed bill to amend the Citizenship Act. The protest took an unfortunate turn when one of the protesters, Niraj Kumar Kamat from Katahari, Morang, attempted to set himself on fire before the police intervened and stopped him.
On June 4, the Supreme Court issued an interlocutory interim order asking the authorities not to enforce the new amendment to the Citizenship Act that was authenticated by President Ramchandra Paudel. A single-judge bench of Justice Manoj Sharma issued the order after hearing the writ petition filed by senior advocates Surendra Bhandari and Bal Krishna Neupane. Ever since, youths without citizenship and their allies have taken to the streets in Kathmandu.
As the amendment has become a law with the presidential seal, it clears the path for thousands of children of parents who got citizenship by birth to acquire citizenship by descent. The Act allowed everyone born within Nepal’s territory before April 12, 1990 to acquire citizenship by birth. However, their children haven’t got their citizenship by descent in the absence of a law as the constitution said the provision to grant them citizenship would be guided by a federal law.
Speaking at the protest on Tuesday, Kamat noted that former president Bidya Devi Bhandari kept the Citizenship Bill on hold, twice, even after the federal parliament endorsed it and now it is being said that the current President did not follow due process in authenticating the bill. “Was the double endorsement by the federal parliament not enough?” Kamat said. “The constitution is also not in favour of us, the victims. It has not solved problems. The Supreme Court has also been repeatedly mired in politics.”
The protesters chanted strongly-worded slogans against former Prime Minister and chair of CPN-UML KP Sharma Oli. The UML has been protesting Paudel’s authentication of an “expired bill”. The protesters also shouted slogans against lawyers Neupane and Surendra Bhandari, who had filed the petition against enforcement of the amendment.
The citizenship issue has become serious over time. Hundreds of thousands of youths who are without citizenship remain deprived of opportunities to open a bank account, to pursue education, to get a job and to go abroad. Many blame the over-politicisation of the citizenship issue for the delay in resolving the problem.
Vivek Baranwal, 21, who is currently studying in Kathmandu, is also waiting to get a citizenship certificate. His father holds citizenship by birth as his grandfather did not have citizenship. His mother has citizenship by descent.
Baranwal has had to let go of study opportunities and scholarships due to the lack of a citizenship certificate. “I am invisible to government bodies, so I won’t be issued a driving licence, permanent account number, passport or a voter identity card,” said Baranwal, who has written about his ordeal for the Post. “Neither can I sit for public service commission exams.”
He does not see the chances of a resolution anytime soon. “As it has entered the court, it is uncertain when it will conclude. Even if the bill is to be brought again, it will take time. Even then there is no guarantee that it won’t be a victim of politicking.”
Four years earlier, a youth in Sunsari district had killed himself after a ward office declined to write him a recommendation for citizenship. Hari Mandal of Duhabi-3 hanged himself to death after the ward office repeatedly declined his request for a recommendation letter, citing the lack of necessary documents.
His brother Pramod Mandal had acquired citizenship by birth 17 years ago. Hari had reached the ward office seeking a recommendation letter with his birth certificate and academic certificate issued by his school. But his request was declined as his parents did not have citizenship certificates.
Now the youths who have been denied citizenship plan to protest in other places as well.
Arjun Sah from Mahottari and other victims are planning to stage a protest in Janakpur as well since many of them can’t afford to travel and stay in Kathmandu for protests. A 35-year-old resident of Matihani, Mahottari, Sah is yet to get a citizenship even after the Supreme Court’s ruling in his favour in 2018.
Sah had moved the top court on February 13, 2018, seeking Nepali citizenship, claiming that he had been living in Nepal since his birth and his mother was a Nepali citizen by descent. His father, not a citizen of any country, had been living with his mother in Nepal ever since their marriage.
The Supreme Court ruled in his favour on September 13, 2018 and the District Administration Office asked him to go to the home ministry. Sah went to the ministry with a petition after two months, seeking naturalised citizenship. But the ministry did not issue him citizenship, saying that it requires legal clarity as his father was neither Nepali nor a foreigner nor was it the case of an unidentified father.
Sah has three degrees—an MBA, an MA and an Acharya [master’s] in Sanskrit—but he is jobless and is dependent on his parents for survival. “Private-sector employers also seek citizenship certificates. All parents hope that their children will earn a living and look after them when they are old,” he said. “We cannot afford to come to Kathmandu time and again to file and fight cases.”
Sah’s youngest daughter has been denied a birth certificate as he does not have a citizenship certificate. His two sons, however, got their birth certificates as, earlier, the system in the ward office was not computerised and did not require the citizenships of parents.
Sah’s is a tricky case, and the state does not appear interested in coming to his help.
As per the bill endorsed by the Parliament twice, children born to Nepali mothers born in and residing in Nepal and whose fathers are not identified are eligible for Nepali citizenship by descent. However, in such a case, the mother must declare that the father cannot be identified. Moreover, she will be liable for action if it is later found that her claim that the father “cannot be identified” turns out to be wrong.
A child born to a Nepali man who is married to a foreign woman can obtain citizenship by descent as per the bill. A child born to a Nepali mother and a foreign father will only be eligible for a naturalised citizenship and that too if the state deems it okay.
Article 10 of the Constitution ensures that no Nepali person will be deprived of the right to citizenship.
“Let’s keep the political matters aside, it has been eight years since the promulgation of the constitution, but the government and political parties have not shown any interest in implementing the constitution’s provisions,” Mohan Kumar Karna, an advocate living in Biratnagar, said.
“Citizenship should be given as soon as possible as hundreds of thousands of people are suffering. The leaders, the President, and the court have been seen to be playing different roles and taking different stands on the citizenship issue at different times.”
The process of authenticating the bill to amend the Citizenship Act was initiated in July last year. After both houses of the federal parliament first endorsed the bill and sent it to the then President Bhandari, she sent it back with her 15-point suggestions.
However, the federal parliament endorsed the bill without any changes and detailed discussion. When re-sent for authentication, Bhandari sat on the bill, allowing the 15-day deadline to pass, drawing severe criticism from various quarters.
“No one, not the government, the legislature, the court, or the political parties have been serious about such a serious issue,” Karna said.