Life bleak for lost child growing up sans citizenship
KATHMANDU, April 26: He ventured out of his family´s rented quarters somewhere at Swoyambhu when he was four years old and was swallowed up by the big city. The only things he remembers are that his parents used to spin yarn and his mother had just given birth to a younger brother.
He somehow survived and, though uneducated, has developed livelihood skills. Som--he does not know his family name but he thinks he is a Chhetri-- feels disillusioned in life for lack of a proper identity.
Now 26, he earns Rs 700 a day through house-painting and Rs 6,000 a month doubling as a night watchman at a nongovernmental organization (NGO). He is never short of work during the day thanks to the unending construction work in the city and, with a regular monthly salary to boot, he doesn´t have to struggle for money.
But he cannot save his earnings with a bank as banks and financial institutions refuse to serve him without a citizenship certificate. All the employees at the NGO where he works have insurance cover except him. The NGO also has a provident fund for all its employees but he is not eligible. The office pays its staff through a bank but he has to take cash, and under different expenditure heads. All because he cannot take out a citizenship certificate.
He says that after disappearing into the big city as a toddler he was found in a critical condition at some temple premises. He was taken home by one Gunjaman Singh Basnet of Farping, a CPN (UML) leader, after his treatment. Basnet later sent him to one Harihar Man Nakarmi at Maharajgunj where he lived as a son of the family for over 12 years. Though the Nakarmis, who have nine houses and 12 ropani of land in the Valley, never sent him to school, they used to introduce him at social gatherings as a son of the family. "I called him (Harihar) father, his wife mother and their sons brothers. He even promised to build a separate house for me," he recalls.
But all that changed when a team from Kathmandu District Administration Office visited the locality during then king Gynanedra´s reign around 2004 to distribute citizenship certificates. Nakarmi himself took him to the team but within five minutes asked him to turn back . "Someone apparently told him that I could have a claim on his huge property if he helped me get a citizenship certificate as his son," he says adding, "In the evening he also asked me to leave his home, saying I was now grown up and he could not feed me anymore."
The Nakarmis gave him a job at their poultry farm at Budhanilakantha but sacked him around a year and half. A friend´s sister helped him get a job at a Toyota showroom at Lazimpat and the showroom owner found him a job at the home of an Indian embassy official three months later. The embassy official paid him well but was transferred to Saudi Arabia after six months. The official offered to take Som along to Saudi Arabia, but he could not make out a passport, again for lack of a citizenship certificate.
He says he contacted the Nakarmis for help to make out a citizenship certificate by birth, pledging that he would never make any claim on their property. "But they declined," says Basnet, who had handed Som over to the Nakarmis. Basnet later took him to the District Administration Office and the chief district officer wrote out a recommendation for citizenship certificate, as per the regulations. "It has been five years but I have yet to get my citizenship certificate," he says ruefully. He says that without citizenship papers, he has lost the chance of joining many reputed organizations. A friend´s father working in Qatar had also offered him a job there.
Advocate Keshav Raj Joshi states that the government had made a special one-time arrangement before the Constitution Assembly elections under which Som could have been provided a certificate. But he was away in India at the time and could not take advantage of the provision. "He missed that opportunity, and the district administration office cannot now give him a citizenship certificate," Joshi adds.
He, however, opines that the Home Ministry can decide to give him his citizenship or he can move the apex court. But Som is unfamiliar with legal provisions.
Legal officer at the Children-Women in Social Service and Human Rights (CWISH) Kamal Prasad Guragain, said hundreds of youths like Som remain deprived of citizenship. "The state should treat such youths as foreign nationals if they are not citizens. If they are citizens of Nepal, the state should recognize them as such," Guaragain added.