In a state of statelessness: a case study of the citizens without citizenship in Nepal

July 31, 2006 at 10:01 am Leave a comment

In a state of statelessness: a case study of the citizens without citizenship in Nepal

By Prof. Hari Prasad Bhattarai, Lokniti Newsletter, 19 April 2006 

This case study is about the Tarai region of Nepal, which is home to the Madhesi people. The Madhesis live on the Nepal side ofthe Nepal-India border and are of Indian origin. They have been migrating to Nepal since the 1860’s, and now constitute 15% ofthe total population of the country. The Madhesis have always been socially, economically and politically the poorest and most disadvantaged group in Nepal, and do not enjoy any citizenshiprights. Their ‘denial of citizenship rights has contributed tolandlessness, marginalization and restricted access to many State, market and public resources’ writes Prof. H.P. BhattaraiThe case study looks at the reasons which makes the madhesi people unable to acquire the required documents necessary to establish their citizenship, ‘the difficulties they face in accessingthe resources of the State’ and market, and also tries to capture the attitude of political parties, social movements and civilsociety organizations towards the Madhesi.Prof. Bhattarai then goes on to discuss the concept of‘Citizenship’ in the Nepalese context. The modern concept of citizenship was introduced in Nepal through the enactment of the Citizenship Act of 1952 and has since been amended five times. These amendments happened when it was observed that Nepal showed the highest rate of naturalization of Indians among SouthAsian countries. The discourse of citizenship, says Prof Bhattarai, generates political tension as it is intricately tied to the issue of ethnicity and regionalism. Tying ethnicity to the discourse on identity can be problematic as ethnic identity is not a fixed form of identity. Secondly Nepal, is characterized byunequal ethnic relations reflecting an intense unequal competition for State resources. 

 The Madhesi people migrated to the once malaria infested Taraidue to the active policy of the Nepalese government. The 2001 census showed they comprised of 32% of the Tarai population. Considered ‘quasi-foreigners’ (due to their Indian origin) up to the 1950s, the Katmandu elite greatly hesitates to grant them citizenship for fear of being over run by Indians.

India and Nepal having porous borders have much cross border interactions. However there is also hostility especially for the Madhesi, who are viewed as outsiders both in Nepal and India, thus leading to an identity crisis for the Madhesi people.The successful acquiring of citizenship is much linked to language, facial structure, family links with hill people etc’ asthe law is ill defined and finally the giving of citizenship is thusleft to the discretion of the bureaucrats, writes Prof. Bhattaria. Legally too, Article 8 of the Constitution of the Kingdom of
Nepal is discriminatory and a stumbling block for the Madhesisin obtaining citizenship. Article 8, limits birthright citizenship to1962. And those who were born before that period but had not claimed citizenship in 1962 are denied citizenship. Prof Bhattaraithen investigates reasons that make it difficult for the Taraipeople to get citizenship.

The people of the Tarai live a nomadic life. They own noproperty, whose documents can be used to ascertain theiridentity; and being poor they do not have the time or money to invest in collecting the required documentation or travel to the required offices to get their citizenship certificate. Nepalese bureaucrats also look upon the way they dress with suspicion.Thus a Madhesi may not get a citizenship certificate after being in Nepal for generations while an Indian who has recently movedthere and purchased land or forged documents, can.The citizenship certificate is useful for numerous reasons such asfor establishing a small-scale firm, running an import business,accessing bank loans and government welfare schemes, making a passport, registering a marriage or birth and for gaining political representation during elections. Importantly it also has asymbolic meaning as those who have a citizenship certificatehave an emotional sense of national identity as its denial in ones own country means humiliation as one is treated as a foreigner.The lack of a citizenship certificate has especially affected thelandless poor Madhesi as they have not been able to benefit from the Land Reforms Program implemented by the Government. However, numerous organizations like the Nepal SadbhavanaParty (NSP), Madhesi Mukti Morcha and its sister organizations and NGOs have begun organizing Madeshi people, though divisions along, caste, linguistics and ethnic lines proves to beconstraints to Madhesi unity.



Entry filed under: Articles.

Police brutality on Madheses demanding Citizenship at Janakpur Nepali Nationalism

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