Nepal | Constitutional woes

So Nepal has a new constitution. Nearly a decade since the peace deal between the government and Maoist rebels ended a long and bloody civil war, this document was planned to be unifying element for the country following the change from a monarchy to a democracy.

The new constitution changes the country to a federal republic, which supposedly addresses the diversity of Nepalese society. The country is split by divisions such as high- and low-caste, Nepali-speaking vs speakers of other indigenous languages, hill ethnicities vs lowland ethnicities, and gender divisions, with high-caste men from the hills almost supremely dominant up to now.

And within the context of caste and gender, highly contentious components of the constitution are causing protest throughout the country.

The constitution, written by the established parties which – including the Maoists – are dominated by high-caste, mostly male, leaders lends bias to which candidates and parties will be elected. Parliament will be now be elected with a smaller percentage of proportional representative votes, effectively leaving less scope for electing representatives of lower-caste and the smaller ethnicities to gain a political voice in government. Those who have traditionally been marginalised in Nepalese society now fear that the constitution ostracizes them and decreases their opportunity for political representation.

Gender discrimination has also been brought to the fore in protests on the constitution, with a clear imbalance between the way in which the law sees men and women and their rights to citizenship in what is already a highly patriarchal society.

Under the new constitution it will be difficult for a single mother to pass her citizenship to her child. If a Nepali woman marries a foreign man, their children cannot become Nepali unless the man first takes Nepali citizenship; whereas if the father is Nepali, his children can also be Nepali regardless of the wife’s nationality. Children born to single mothers inside the country will be eligible to apply for citizenship through their mothers only if the whereabouts of their biological fathers are unknown.  Also, there is no provision for children of single mothers born outside the country. This point is particularly poignant to many Nepalese women who have faced sexual violence, rape and subsequent pregnancies as guest workers in other countries and now find that their children are stateless back in Nepal.

Many campaigners for change complain that the constitution is a hash; rushed through by the ‘establishment’ with only token and brief public consultations and designed to suit the ambitions of the main political parties.

Increasingly, there are voices of protest from those who fought for the Maoists, or supported their aims in their guerrilla war, or who once saw them as the most progressive post-war party. The ex-Maoists (now leftists) are the targets of this anger, with many accusing them of betrayal to the principles that a civil-war was fought over.

The Maoists had once fought, among other things, to end patriarchy, let ethnic minorities form their own regional governments and redistribute land from large holders to the landless. Power it seems has laid waste to these principles, with much of what was broken and wrong with Nepal repeated in a constitution that once promised to unite and fairly represent all its people.

Shame.

Sources: bbc.com kathmandupost