KATHMANDU, Feb 15: It is now official. The 2021 national census will employ the census method to collect the details of the population of the sexual and gender minorities, who are looking to further their identities and ensure their rights according to their numerical strength.
The 2011 census also adopted the census method to collect the details of population of the third gender for the first time in Nepal in 100 years long history of population census. However, their number was found to be around 1,500 only, raising questions on the methodology and awareness at the grass root level.
The Central Bureau of Statistics (CBS) did not publish its findings, assuming that their numbers could have been under-reported. The number was in a sharp contrast with the claim of non-governmental organizations working for the rights of sexual and gender minorities. They estimate their number to be a little over 800,000.
For 2021, the same methodology is being employed upon the consistent request from various organizations working for sexual and gender minorities. The CBS was apprehensive at the beginning and they were pitching for a sample survey method with detailed questionnaire so as to reflect their true population status rather than limiting to a single question in the Households Listing Form.
"There was some confusion regarding the 2021 edition of the census. However, we agreed as the organizations working for the sexual and gender minorities keep on emphasizing the census method," said CBS Director Dhundi Raj Lamichhane. As a part of the preparation of the 2021 national census, a 15-day long pilot census is being conducted from March 9 in various 14 districts that cover 12,000 households. "We are employing the census method for these communities in the pilot census," Lamichhane added.
For the 2021 census, the CBS has made some major changes in the 2011 census questions on the choice of the sex. It includes the option of "other sexual and gender" in place of "third sex" that was among the options in the 2011 census questions.
Officials and activists believe that the new provision will broaden the definition of the sexual and gender minorities. As practiced in countries elsewhere, the LGBTI in Nepal stands for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people. A sixth category named queer is also added recently to this community.
"Only trans-gender and intersex are understood as the third gender while other sexual orientations also needed to be documented under sexual and gender minority categories," said Sujan Pant, a legal advisor to Blue Diamond Society (BDS) that has been championing the cause of 'third genders' in Nepal.
The change has also been made in accordance with the 2069 BS home ministry directives relating to the citizenship certificate issuance for sexual and gender minorities. The directives make a provision to mention "others" as sex status, in addition to male and female. A Gazette published in June 2012 has made an amendment to the Nepal Citizenship Regulations 2007, clearly mentioning "others" in the sexual category.
Nepal's constitution mentions the rights of the sexual and gender minorities in Articles 12, 18 and 42 and calls for the specific protective measures for them with positive discrimination. Also, Nepal issues citizenship and passport to third gender people clearly mentioning their sex as “other”.
The sexual and gender minority activists believe that a high level of awareness among the third sex category would make it possible to reflect their true number in the 2021 census."There have been significant changes in terms of awareness and consciousness relating to the third sex," said Sarita KC of Mitini Nepal. "There is a growing trend of opening up among those who tend to hide their true sexual orientation."
"The true data will help the community to make their case much stronger," BDS legal advisor Pant argued. Blue Diamond Society, Mitini Nepal, Inclusive Forum, Campaign for Change and Queer Youth Group are working for the welfare of the sexual and gender minorities in Nepal. An umbrella organization of the sexual and gender minorities has 36 member organizations across the country, according to Pant.
“Although the laws have guaranteed our rights, our voices remain unheard at many fronts,” said KC. “The biological identity is the major basis of sexual identity in the Nepali society. Therefore the third-gender people find it extremely difficult to publicly declare their 'otherness'.”
KC claimed that their joint forum is organizing awareness and training programs across the country to encourage people to declare their true sexual orientations without any fear and hesitation. "We have demanded that representatives of LGBTI Community should also be included among the census enumerators and supervisors," KC said.
The sexual and gender minorities are known by different names in different parts of the country. In Province 2, they are known as "Nachniya" while in eastern mountains they are also known as " Fulu Mulu. "While making Public Service Announcement about the census, the message has to reflect the local content and understanding," KC suggested. "The right answer can come only after the right understanding."
The third gender people have secured their rights following a Supreme Court verdict in 2064 BS which declared them natural individuals and asked to accept their true identities. Nepal issues citizenship and passport to the third gender people, clearly mentioning their sex as “other”. With reluctance on issuance of citizen certificate at the local level, the Supreme Court in 2073 BS gave a writ of mandamus in relation to the issuance of unhindered citizenship certificate for these community members.
Although Nepal started issuing citizenship to the third-gender people under “other” category since 2013 only 200 such citizenship cards have been issued so far, A negligible number of passports has been issued in the name of the third gender. “There is no reservation for us, neither we are in minority groups enjoying special benefits from the state,” argued KC.
Pant informed that the 2064 Supreme Court ruling also demanded the commissioning of a study about same sex marriage and a seven-member committee prepared 80-page long report about the same sex marriage. "The report is gathering dust somewhere," said Pant.