Comedy on Citizenship in Nepal

By Mohan Karna

Discrimination between citizens should be the subject of condemnation but somehow we are making it the subject of  entertainment for ourselves. Some Nepalis fear that Nepal’s nationality is always at stake. They should be clear whether their decisions are guided by inferiority complex  resulting from Nepal’s location between two giant countries: China and India. Or perhaps from their suspicion  that Madhesi Community of Nepal is not loyal to Nepal’s nationality. If it is the former, we should review our low self esteem. If latter, we need to discuss whether a prosperous Nepal is possible without creating an inclusive society where all citizens can coexist with dignity. Presenting one community, caste, or class as more nationalist than the other by discarding facts and statistics may provide short term entertainment but the result of this can be catastrophic.

Doubts That Madhesis Are Not Nationalists

Some “intellectuals” ask, “where is discrimination?”. They often  whine that four million foreigners (read Indian citizens) received Nepali citizenship, more on this later. They are quick to label Madhesis as intruders from Bihar and UP of India.

The fact is: millions of Madhesis have lived in Madhes, southern Nepal for generations, even before that region was annexed into Nepal. They never try to understand the pain of Madhesis for being called intruders while in reality Madhesis are the native people of the land, they are “Dhartiputras”.

Nepalis who claim to be nationalists argue  that if foreign women married to Nepali man are allowed to assume constitutional positions, they will make Nepal into “Fiji”. Their fear emanates from an era of slavery and colonialism when Indian slaves were shipped by the colonial British to Fiji to work on sugar plantations. Such unfounded fear and insecurity are propagated to target Madhesi community. Some national media based in Kathmandu are also misusing their power to launch propaganda  against Madhesis. This is a continuation of their strategy to report unfairly about Madhes Andolan just earlier this year.

Myth of Four Million Foreigners With Nepali Citizenship

First, Madhesi leaders claimed that four million Madhesis were without citizenship.  Using the same rhetoric, nationalists then started claiming that  four million foreigners (mainly Indian citizens) got Nepali citizenship in 2007. However, the people speaking such things do not consider the fact that the citizenship distribution team was not deployed only in Madhes and the citizenship were not distributed only in Madhes. Out of 26,15,615 citizenship certificates distributed at that time, 23,44,821 were on through descent, 1,00,224 through marital relation and 528 through naturalization.

Of those distributed citizenship certificates, 12,75,715 were distributed in Tarai and rest 13,40,260 were distributed in Kathmandu and other places of Nepal.

The claim that four million Indian citizens received Nepali citizenship in 2007 is false on several fronts.

First, only 2.6 million citizenship certificates were distributed in 2007. Second, less than half of those, just around 1.3 million were distributed in Tarai. If more people outside of Tarai received citizenship certificates in 2007, to claim that four million Indians received Nepali citizenship is  a double whammy. It exposes their hypocrisy and hatred for Madhesis.

Perhaps some of those citizenship certificates were distributed under coercion, corruption and by influence of wrong methods. Such cases need to be investigated fairly and  involved authorities should be punished if found guilty.

Statelessness in Nepal

It is important to note that few years before the citizenship distribution in 2007, the Dhanpati Commission was formed to solve the problem of lack of citizenship in Nepal. It had reported that 3.4 million Nepalis were without citizenship. Ten years earlier,  a citizenship distribution team under the coordination of Jitendra Narayan Dev had distributed 34,090 citizenship certificates in some Tarai districts in 1998. This was nullified by the Supreme Court later stating that Commission formed under Mr. Dev was illegal. Following this decision, none of the Nepali civil society members, media or the political actors raised this issue or attempted to alleviate the sufferings of  hundreds of thousands of Nepalis who were stateless on their own soil. Because there were few errors in citizenship distribution, the argument cannot be justified that hundreds of  thousands of Nepali citizens should be deprived of it. It is a fact that there are a still a significant number of people in Nepal who are hesitant to accept Madhesis as Nepali citizen.

As a result, an increasingly larger populace of Madhesis are now willing to get rid of the burden to prove them as “pure Nepali” time and again. It seems like an alternative is taking force from the grassroots and it is gaining momentum, and broad public support.

There were arguments at the time when the result of election of first Constituent Assembly came out that Madhes based political parties occupied a good number of seats in election result, because of a good number of citizenships were distributed to foreigners. If this were true, it is surprising that four million new citizens (from a foreign country) suddenly voted for nationalist parties like UML  duringthe second CA election time. The claim that four million foreigners received Nepali citizenship is absurd at best since it it is not backed up by any statistics. It is a propaganda tool by nationalists to deny citizenship to Madhesis.

Professor Krishna Hachhethu has recently raised an important question that if migration of people from Bihar and UP in India has increased in Nepal then the number of Maithili, Bhojpuri, and Awadhi speaking people must have increased in Nepal too. However, the census from 2018 to 2068 B.S. suggests that the percentage of above mentioned language speakers has stayed consistent  around 11-12%. And the Hindi speaking people is a meager 0.29% of the total population of Nepal.

The fear that there is or will be an influx of Indian citizens into Nepal is either a myth or propaganda. The fact is that due to a porous border, Nepali and Indian citizens have always migrated from one country to another for jobs or trade. This has allowed citizens of both countries to eke out a living and thwart starvation.

Why Sonia Gandhi Could Not Become Indian Prime Minister

Some Nepali nationalists make a superficial argument that Indian leaders should not advise Nepali leaders on citizenship provisions since Sonia Gandhi was barred to become Prime Minister of India because she was born outside India.

But it is important to note that the Indian Constitution, laws or policies of India did not bar Sonia Gandhi to become Prime Minister of India. If she would have wished to assume that post, no one could have stopped her. It was her personal decision to not run for that position.

A country is not merely its land, rivers, and mountains  It should also reflect the identity, culture, and linguistics of its citizens. Those who say that fight for identity is irrelevant in our modern world must remember that a year ago, Great Britain, one of the old civilized nation, conducted a referendum on whether Scotland should be an independent country or remain part of the UK.  The issue of identity is still relevant today.

The political power of Madhesis at this juncture may appear weak, and the prevalent thought that by issuing a Constitution, Madhesis have been silenced is not that easy to be attacked at present. However, it is important to note that until the constitution prevails as the document of winner and loser, chances are high that the people with disappointment will be organizing their strength. Sooner or later, Madhesis will unitedly rise up to protect their identity  and that will not be the beggar attitude of present Madhesi leaders or the Madhesi intellectuals seen these days. The day, Madhesis will realize that their identity can be ensured only through power, the Nepali state can no longer suppress such legitimate demands through its police, army, or guns.