Of lesser use

The Supreme Court (SC) has ruled that citizenship certificate cannot be issued to anyone solely on the basis of the child’s mother being a Nepali. It said that it would be “impractical” to provide citizenship to anyone without identifying his or her father. The bench also opined that giving citizenship to a child for his or her mother being a Nepali contravenes the Constitutional provision that decrees “a person whose father is a citizen of Nepal at the time of his or her birth shall be a citizen of Nepal by descent.” Article 9 (2) states that every child within the Kingdom of Nepal and the whereabouts of whose parents are not known shall, until the father of the child is traced, is deemed to be a citizen of Nepal by descent. Since this Article guarantees citizenship to a child only at the time of his or her birth, problems sprung for women from Badi community and also for “illegitimate” children born of the Deukis. A writ was thus filed against it. Now the SC decision has killed any hope those married or unmarried women had entertained.

Since this ruling comes not only in accordance with the Constitution but also after weighing a long-standing fear of foreigners overwhelming the Nepali population in the long run, it cannot be dismissed as irrational. But in doing so, the verdict greatly undermines the issue of equality. For the vast number of uneducated and poor Nepali women whose husbands desert them, it means that their children would be denied citizenship for all times to come. Even if some of them want to fight it out by convincing the authorities of their plight, the process is cumbersome. That apart, they also lack resources to move the courts or seek any legal assistance. The fundamental concept of equality says, “All men (women) are born equal.” But the SC ruling not only seeks to deny Nepali women their proper place in the society, it also relegates them to a second-class status. This is a clear case of discrimination. The law in question takes the country backwards, reinforcing the age-old patriarchal hold over the society. The judiciary is the only lawful agency of the state that can legally empower women. It should therefore improvise on the relevant laws that are discriminatory towards women. If any constitutional provision comes in the way of guaranteeing equal status to women, it should be amended or done away with without delay.