Nepal’s new citizenship proposal to impact India-Nepal ‘roti-beti’ ties

In a fresh move by Nepal’s lawmakers, the parliamentary State Affairs and Good Governance Committee on Sunday endorsed an amendment bill to the Citizenship Act 2063, which would make it compulsory for a foreign woman married to Nepali men to wait for seven years to acquire naturalised citizenship.

While it is for all foreigners, given the number of marriages that take place between families of India and Nepal, many believe that this is targeted against India.

In yet another move by the Oli administration to level with India, the government is contemplating reciprocal moves in its citizenship act as well. India’s laws on citizenship for foreigners who get married to Indians have been tough and time consuming.

According to India’s Indian Citizenship Act, 1955, “A person who is married to a citizen of India and is ordinarily resident of India for seven years before making an application for registration;”

This comes at a time when Kathmandu has been contemplating how to tighten its rules of citizenship to reduce influence of India in the decision-making process of the nation.

It comes days after the country passed the controversial map amendment bill that saw opposition from only one Member of Parliament from Samajbadi Janata Party Nepal, Savita Giri. Putting it in context, Giri is a Nepali of Indian origin.

Born and brought up in Bihar, she got married into an influential political family of Nepal from the Madhes/Terai region, which has a huge connect with Bihar in India.

The proposal, as of now, also is seeing a lot of objections from three major political parties and many NGOs, even as the ruling Nepal Communist Party (NCP) went ahead with the proposal. The House committee had been debating the bill for the last two years.

“The citizenship amendment bill has been endorsed by majority votes,” said Shashi Shrestha, chair of the committee. “A foreign woman married to a Nepali man will be granted naturalised citizenship after her continuous stay in Nepal for seven years.”

In the 27-member committee, the ruling party holds a majority with 16 members.

Earlier, foreign women got immediate citizenship with all the rights of a citizen upon marriage to a Nepali man.

However, the Nepali Congress, Samajbadi Janata Party Nepal had opposed the provision, calling it “unconstitutional” and that it goes against the provision of the interim constitution 2006, as per which the Citizenship Act 2063 allowed foreign women to acquire naturalised citizenship after getting married to Nepali men.

Earlier, according to Clause 5.1 of the Citizenship Act, foreign women are immediately eligible for citizenship upon marriage to a Nepali man while there are no provisions for a foreign man who marries a Nepali woman, requiring foreign men to spend a minimum of 15 years in Nepal before being eligible to apply for naturalised citizenship.

However, many activists have objected to the gender discrimination in the proposal, calling the seven-year requirement for foreign women married to Nepali men as a “regressive” and “discriminatory” move.

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