Deepti Gurung (center) with her daughters in this picture taken from her Facebook page.
KATHMANDU, May 23: Two years after filing a case at the Supreme Court for citizenship to her daughters through her identity, Deepti Gurung has finally taken a big sigh of relief. Now she can pass on citizenship certificates to her daughters. On Monday, the apex court ordered that Gurung’s daughters Neha, 22, and Nikita, 17, are eligible for citizenship by descent. The girls said that they are on cloud nine after the court’s verdict.
“We had not even imagined that we would be granted citizenship anytime soon. But when mom broke this news to me today afternoon, I was simply awestruck. I pinched myself and began to cry,” said Neha, a third-year student at National Law College.
Her sister Nikita reacted the same way. Her euphoria is natural since she can now try for abroad study like her classmates, she said. Nikita is a 11th grader at Little Angels Higher Secondary School.
“The battle was long and tough. We three - my daughters and I - always felt so much discriminated against by the state which would not recognize a mother’s independent identity and dignity. I had to face many hassles even while acquiring their birth certificates,” said Gurung, a local of Pulchwok, Lalitpur.
Even though the new constitution does not bar single parents from passing on citizenship to their children through their identities, the laws are slightly different when the single parent is a mother. The children of such mothers have to prove whether their father is a Nepali or a foreigner since it’s the father’s identity which determines whether they would get a naturalized citizenship or citizenship by descent.
Gurung tried another way. She said that the father of her children is unknown, in order to claim citizenship by descent for her children without producing the documents demanded by the authorities. “However, the Kathmandu CDO was not helpful. Then I went to the court with the help of organizations and networks that have been fighting for equal gender rights,” she narrated.
Single mothers face many hassles in District Administration office in such cases, notes advocate Meera Dhungana, who fought Gurung’s case. When mothers are not in a position to produce documents identifying their children’s father, they ask the CDO to provide citizenship under the ‘father unknown’ category. And few CDOs are impressed with this, she stated.
“So, it depends on the discretion of the CDO whether to help the children and the mother in such cases. In Gurung’s case, the children are getting citizenship by descent now, without mentioning about their father. There would have been no problem if the CDO had given that right away when they demanded it,” Dhungana said.
Meanwhile Gurung, who took to the street and remained in the limelight for long in course of fighting for ‘citizenship through mother’, termed her victory as a half-won battle.
According to her, some politicians had asked her to calm down and not take to the street, promising to resolve her problem. “But, my fight was not just for myself. It’s for Nepali women or mothers in general. And today’s verdict of the court makes me feel that the battle is half won,” she said.
Gurung’s stance is that equal citizenship rights would be ensured only when mothers like her won’t have to knock the doors of courts for citizenship to their children through them. “When you go to the court, it naturally takes a long time to get the case decided,” she said.
Meanwhile, Dhungana informed Republica that the home ministry has issued a circulation to CDO offices in all 75 districts not to deprive children of Nepali mothers of citizenship under any pretext since the constitution has guaranteed citizenship to such children.
“However, CDOs are reluctant due to the patriarchal mindset. Until they are forced to act rightly, it won’t change,” she said.
There is no exact figure on how many children have been stateless due to the lack of ‘easy provision’ for citizenship through mothers in the country. However, an NGO, Forum for Women Law and Development (FWLD), claims the number is over four million.