In Nepal, Women As Second-Class Citizen Takes A Sad New Twist

Though the law says otherwise, citizenship is typically not granted to the children of Nepalese women if they don't give proof that the father is also from Nepal.

Mother and daughter in Patan, Nepal
Mother and daughter in Patan, Nepal
Rajan Parajuli

KATHMANDU — Hanging in Arjun Shah's room in his Kathmandu boarding house is a white t-shirt that reads in bold red letters: "Where Is Our Citizenship?"

The shirt is one of about 500 that the 25-year-old had printed up to share with friends, fellow activists, and to wear at protests. Shah dresses has dressed more formally on nearly nine years' worth of visits to government offices, in an endless attempt to obtain his Nepalese citizenship.

"They want my father's citizenship card. But he doesn't have one because he moved to Nepal from India," he explains. "My mother has a citizenship certificate. But they will not accept it and shout at me to go away."

Life without citizenship is tough. People like Shah cannot legally get a driving license, open a bank account, take out a loan or buy land. It's also stopping the young man from getting a job. "I was ranked first in the recruitment process at a bank," he says. "In the interview, the man asked me to show my citizenship card. When I told him I don't have one, he literally threw my certificate at me and said, "You are not Nepalese, you must be Indian.""

The Interim Constitution made in 2007 clearly states that "any person whose father or mother was a citizen of Nepal at his or her birth is a Nepalese citizen." But in practice, women in this patriarchal society still face much discrimination when passing down citizenship to their children, especially in the absence of the father or if the father is not a citizen. Overall, there are an estimated 4.3 million Nepalese living without citizenship.

Preserving the patriarchy

Deepti Gurung is a single mother of two daughters. Her boyfriend left her when she was pregnant. "I was an 18-year-old girl and decided I was going to give birth to this child no matter what, with or without a father," she recalls. "It doesn't matter. I have struggled throughout my life to bring up my daughter with pride. I rejoiced, celebrated my daughter's birth."

Nepalese girl in Kathmandu — Photo: Esmar Abdul Hamid

Now Deepti’s elder daughter Neha is 18 years old. She wants to study to become a doctor. But without citizenship that will be very difficult. "When I was filling a form at school I had to fill in the parents' names," says Neha. "I asked if it'd be okay just to put my mother's name. They said, "what kind of person are you? You even don’t know your father's name.""

Deepti wants to know why her daughter is being treated as a second-class citizen. "These people are saying, "If you have already given birth to a child why is it shameful to disclose who the father is?" I'm not ashamed. I am disgusted. I don't want to associate the gentleman who didn’t take the responsibility of me and my child.”

The Constituent Assembly, the body writing Nepal's new constitution, has been debating the issue. Former prime minister and Assembly member Madhav Kumar believes mothers should not have the same rights as fathers. "It's not possible because we cannot provide citizenship to every person who comes to Nepal," he says. "What happens after 50 years?”

The issue of identity is a sensitive and controversial one in Nepal. Many politicians fear an influx of people from India. But Sabin Shrestha, the executive director of the Forum for Woman, Law and Development, says it is really an issue of male control. "They think if they give equal rights to women in terms of citizenship, then the patriarchy system will be destroyed," she says.

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How Thailand's Lèse-Majesté Law Is Used To Stifle All Protest

Once meant to protect the royal family, the century-old law has become a tool for the military-led government in Bangkok to stamp out all dissent. A new report outlines the abuses.

Pro-Democracy protest at The Criminal Court in Bangkok, Thailand

Laura Valentina Cortés Sierra

"We need to reform the institution of the monarchy in Thailand. It is the root of the problem." Those words, from Thai student activist Juthatip Sirikan, are a clear expression of the growing youth-led movement that is challenging the legitimacy of the government and demanding deep political changes in the Southeast Asian nation. Yet those very same words could also send Sirikan to jail.

Thailand's Criminal Code 'Lèse-Majesté' Article 112 imposes jail terms for defaming, insulting, or threatening the monarchy, with sentences of three to 15 years. This law has been present in Thai politics since 1908, though applied sparingly, only when direct verbal or written attacks against members of the royal family.

But after the May 2014 military coup d'état, Thailand experienced the first wave of lèse-majesté arrests, prosecutions, and detentions of at least 127 individuals arrested in a much wider interpretation of the law.

The recent report 'Second Wave: The Return of Lèse-Majesté in Thailand', documents how the Thai government has "used and abused Article 112 of the Criminal Code to target pro-democracy activists and protesters in relation to their online political expression and participation in peaceful pro-democracy demonstrations."

Criticism of any 'royal project'

The investigation shows 124 individuals, including at least eight minors, have been charged with lèse-majesté between November 2020 and August 2021. Nineteen of them served jail time. The new wave of charges is cited as a response to the rising pro-democracy protests across Thailand over the past year.

Juthatip Sirikan explains that the law is now being applied in such a broad way that people are not allowed to question government budgets and expenditure if they have any relationship with the royal family, which stifles criticism of the most basic government decision-making since there are an estimated 5,000 ongoing "royal" projects. "Article 112 of lèse-majesté could be the key (factor) in Thailand's political problems" the young activist argues.

In 2020 the Move Forward opposition party questioned royal spending paid by government departments, including nearly 3 billion baht (89,874,174 USD) from the Defense Ministry and Thai police for royal security, and 7 billion baht budgeted for royal development projects, as well as 38 planes and helicopters for the monarchy. Previously, on June 16, 2018, it was revealed that Thailand's Crown Property Bureau transferred its entire portfolio to the new King Maha Vajiralongkorn.

photo of graffiti of 112 crossed out on sidewalk

Protestors In Bangkok Call For Political Prisoner Release

Peerapon Boonyakiat/SOPA Images via ZUMA Wire

Freedom of speech at stake

"Article 112 shuts down all freedom of speech in this country", says Sirikan. "Even the political parties fear to touch the subject, so it blocks most things. This country cannot move anywhere if we still have this law."

The student activist herself was charged with lèse-majesté in September 2020, after simply citing a list of public documents that refer to royal family expenditure. Sirikan comes from a family that has faced the consequences of decades of political repression. Her grandfather, Tiang Sirikhan was a journalist and politician who openly protested against Thailand's involvement in World War II. He was accused of being a Communist and abducted in 1952. According to Sirikhan's family, he was killed by the state.

The new report was conducted by The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), Thai Lawyer for Human Rights (TLHR), and Internet Law Reform Dialogue (iLaw). It accuses Thai authorities of an increasingly broad interpretation of Article 112, to the point of "absurdity," including charges against people for criticizing the government's COVID-19 vaccine management, wearing crop tops, insulting the previous monarch, or quoting a United Nations statement about Article 112.

Juthatip Sirikan speaks in front of democracy monument.

Shift to social media

While in the past the Article was only used against people who spoke about the royals, it's now being used as an alibi for more general political repression — which has also spurred more open campaigning to abolish it. Sirikan recounts recent cases of police charging people for spreading paint near the picture of the king during a protest, or even just for having a picture of the king as phone wallpaper.

The more than a century-old law is now largely playing out online, where much of today's protest takes place in Thailand. Sirikan says people are willing to go further on social media to expose information such as how the king intervenes in politics and the monarchy's accumulation of wealth, information the mainstream media rarely reports on them.

Not surprisingly, however, social media is heavily monitored and the military is involved in Intelligence operations and cyber attacks against human rights defenders and critics of any kind. In October 2020, Twitter took down 926 accounts, linked to the army and the government, which promoted themselves and attacked political opposition, and this June, Google removed two Maps with pictures, names, and addresses, of more than 400 people who were accused of insulting the Thai monarchy. "They are trying to control the internet as well," Sirikan says. "They are trying to censor every content that they find a threat".

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