Lessons in progress from the neighbour

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Gaining ground LGBT community members during a pride parade in Kathmandu. Photo: Reuters
Gaining ground LGBT community members during a pride parade in Kathmandu. Photo: Reuters

The new constitution of Nepal, approved on 16 September, now grants equal rights to the LGBT (lesbian, gay bisexual, transgender) community which has had a robust history of movement in the country. The country’s civil code will soon be revised to adapt national and federal laws and policies to comply with the constitutional requirement for equality and protection of the LGBT community from discrimination. The newly drafted constitution has set an unprecedented example in Asia and has made Nepal the third country in the world, after South Africa and Ecuador, to have delivered constitutional rights to LGBTs.

Although there were recurring incidents of discrimination against LGBT’s in the country in the past, it was in 2004 that the civil society of Nepal, including the conservatives, woke up to a horrific incident — that year a policeman slit the throat of a Nepali transgender after forcing her to perform oral sex with him. The incident sparked widespread protests spearheaded by the LGBT community and the need was felt to reform such a brutal, insensitive system. The first steps in this direction were taken by the judiciary in 2007 at a time when the country’s 239-year-old monarchy was falling and giving way to a more democratic ruling system. Homosexuality was decriminalised that year and on 21 December 2007 the Supreme Court (SC) of Nepal directed the newly-appointed government to reform laws discriminatory towards LGBTs and also to make new laws to protect the rights of sexual minorities.

Determined to redress issues concerning the rights of the LGBT community, the SC reiterated its stand by instructing the government to legislate laws securing equal rights to LGBT citizens on 18 November 2008. Though not unequivocally decriminalising same-sex marriage, the government was asked by the SC to dwell over the debate over the formation of a committee. Reportedly, a bill was drafted for this purpose meant to be introduced by 2010. However, dialogues on the need for a new constitution, which would have put the desired laws in place once and for all, failed to achieve the desired conclusion and the then Prime Minister Baburam Bhattarai disbanded the Constituent Assembly on May 2012.

The movement towards social acceptability and constitutional recognition for LGBTs in Nepal was a tumultuous yet gradual crusade. The Nepal census of 2011 recognised the third gender as a category for the first time. The Central Bureau of Statistics formally documented the third gender apart from male and female. The Bureau moreover began allotting citizenship and providing SIM-card registration with the category ‘other’ as an option for transgenders. In 2012, the SC acknowledged the live-in relationship of a lesbian couple—Rajani Shahi and Prem Kumari despite objections from the family of the former. The provisions for lgbts in the new constitution are a culmination of all these decisions taken over the last eight years.

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