Madhesis are angry, worried and misinformed about the citizenship law

Published On: June 30, 2020 08:15 AM NPT By: Jivesh Jha

If Kathmandu had properly communicated to Madhesis what it is trying to do with the citizenship law, there would have been much less uproar and controversy.

Madheshis are angry and worried that the state might deny citizenship to their spouses because a parliamentary committee has endorsed the Citizenship Amendment Bill.  They are angry also because they have been misinformed by politicians and NGO activists about what is there in the Bill.   Lies, propaganda and misinterpretation could breed hate and tear the social fabric, if they are not told the truth on time.

I am talking about Province 2.

Concerns of Madhesh have been on three points: a) a considerable number of Indian women marrying Nepalis would be prevented from acquiring citizenship for seven years, b) it will destroy the roti-beti ties neighbouring Indian communities and c) it is going to marginalize Madheshi women.

Many of these fears are based on misinformation spread by politicians and NGO activists.

Yes, according to the proposed amendment foreign women, including Indian women, marrying Nepalis will have to wait for seven years to apply for naturalized citizenship of Nepal. But, it is not true that those brides, who have left their country after solemnizing marriage in Nepal, would be left stateless for seven years.

Until the citizenship is granted, such women are granted identity card of permanent resident, which is equivalent to citizenship for the purpose of enjoying economic, social and cultural rights. It means a foreign woman, married to a Nepali man, could obtain permanent resident card at the instance of producing marriage registration certificate and a proof of initiating the process of renouncing the citizenship of her country.

A person with permanent resident card can purchase land, establish business, study, vie for government/semi-government or non-government jobs, apply for the registration of birth certificates, dissolve marriage by the way of divorce or claim estate/maintenance from the husband’s property at the event of the dissolution of matrimony or at the instance of the death of the husband. At least this is what has been proposed.

It is reasonable to question whether the state will be able to do that but it is dishonest to hide this information. Activists in Madhesh are doing just that. They are just saying that the new law aims to make the Indian women marrying Nepalis stateless for seven years.

The resident card ensures continuance of citizenship, neither deprivation, nor suspension of national identity. Thus the proposed law does not actually ruin roti-beti ties with India. What it is going to do, in fact, is curtail the political rights of new comers until they get naturalized citizens.

In Nepal, often the laws and constitution are misinterpreted to ignite political tensions and hates. It was done in 2015. It was no different this time. Madhesis have not been told about the arrangement of permanent resident cards. So there is an apprehension in Madhesh that the ultimate intent of the proposed law is to disrupt the matrimonial ties between Nepal and India.

Madheshis are questioning: What necessitated the government to endorse such a new arrangement all of sudden? Has the government conducted any research to identify the number of Nepali daughters married in India or number of Indian women married in Nepal? In fact, the government has not conducted any research in this regard.

What angers many Madheshis is that the Chief District Officers (CDOs) who have distributed citizenship certificates to foreigners by receiving bribes have not been punished.

The proposed citizenship law seems to assume that Indian brides who marry Madhesi youth do so just to grab the political posts in Nepal. No, they don't. Exceptions do not make rule.

If Kathmandu had properly communicated to Madhesis what it is trying to do with the citizenship law, there would have been much less uproar and controversy.

In southern plains, Nepali is a rich man’s language. Rural folks barely understand this language. Maithili and Bhojpuri are spoken and understood by majority of Madhesi people.

In order to limit the misinterpretation and propaganda, the government of Nepal should bring Maithili, Bhojpuri and English versions of every amendment, law or decision of the Supreme Court that has far-reaching consequences. Effective communication is important to win the trust of people. Nelson Mandela has rightly said that if you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in the language he speaks, that goes to his heart.

In order to limit the misinterpretation of laws and major decisions of the courts, the government of Nepal should ensure arrangement of dissemination of information in local languages. It could partner with national or local daily newspapers in this. Similarly, it could take a leaf from the best practices elsewhere. In India and South Korea, the government has translated constitution in many regional languages and that too in pocket sized form. Korean government employs cartoonists to disseminate the major decisions of the Supreme Court and Constitutional Court in cartoon and story form. In India, the government and private publishers have compiled the major decisions of the Supreme Court and the constitution is translated into Maithili, Nepali, Bhojpuri and other regional languages.

In Nepal, many Madhesis still do not know what is there for them in the constitution because they do not get a Bhojpuri or Maithili copy of the national charter.  This is where politicians and activists come to manipulate and mislead them. The NGO activists often tend to pit Madhesis against hill people, bring them out to the streets, and secure positions in the vital government offices in return. Many of the key posts in Province 2 are filled by former NGO activists.

Unless politicians in Kathmandu care to communicate with common Madhesis regarding policy decisions, people here will continue to feel alienated and fall into the hands of liars.

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