Kathmandu,Iftikhar Gilani: Even as India had sternly warned Nepal to resolve differences before adopting its constitution, the Himalayan nation on Sunday went ahead as its President Ram Baran Yadav unveiled the new fully secular and democratic statute in parliament, but amidst protests in Terai region.
Significantly, Nepal also joined the league of South Africa and Ecuador and handful of other countries giving constitutional rights and safeguards to sexual minorities and those with homosexual and lesbian orientations. In a statement, the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) in New Delhi expressed concern concerned at the situation building up in several parts of Nepal, bordering India as well as raised apprehensions about the broad-based ownership and acceptance of the constitution.
Minority Madhesi and Tharus groups, living in plains – the Terai region — just across the borders of UP and Bihar are protesting, over making country a seven-province federal structure. Urging Kathmandu to address differences and concerns of a section of its population through dialogue free from violence and intimidation and in an institutionalised manner, the MEA statement said only that process would enable a broad-based ownership and acceptance of the constitution. “This would lay the foundation of harmony, progress and development in Nepal,” the statement concluded. Indian Ambassador Ranjit Rae met Nepali Prime Minister Prime Minister Sushil Koirala on Sunday and conveyed India’s concerns. He said India would like Nepali leaders to fulfil their assurances that they would be flexible, for only this could lead to a durable and resilient Constitution.
India believes that the Nepali political leaders didn’t exercise the flexibility to bring on board all regions and sections of society. Therefore, the assessment in the security establishment in Delhi is that the process could sow the seeds for future instability, right across the open border. Foreign Secretary S Jaishankar, who visited Kathmandu few days ago, as a special envoy of Prime Minister Narendra Modi seems to have failed in persuading Nepali leaders. He pointedly asked them, how they expected India to welcome such a constitution. But Nepal’s top three political parties went ahead with the promulgation of it on Sunday. Last year, when Prime Minister Narendra Modi addressed the Constituent Assembly in Kathmandu, he said the constitution should be such that people from Himal, Pahad and Terai can own it. He reiterated this message during a second visit, and categorically gave a call for a consensus-based constitution.
Nepal’s President said, the new constitution has given an opportunity to maintain unity in diversity in the nation and ensure rights of all, while addressing the final meeting of the Constituent Assembly. It has been endorsed by 85 per cent of the 601 members and has the provision of a bicameral legislation. The lower house or the house of representatives will have 375 members and the upper house has 60 members. The constitution has 37 divisions, 304 articles and 7 annexes. The seven provinces will be finalised by a high-level commission within a year.
It has incorporated a radical provision Article 18 that states: “All citizens shall be equal before the law. No person shall be denied the equal protection and benefit of the laws. There shall be no discrimination in the application of general laws on grounds of religion, race, origin, caste, tribe, gender, sexual orientation, physical conditions, health conditions, physical impairment, matrimonial status, pregnancy, economic condition, language or geographical region or ideology and such other matters.” Thus becoming first constitution in South Asia, speaking about rights of sexual minorities.
Article 42, titled Right to Social Justice, specifically includes “gender and sexual minorities.” Article 12 addresses citizenship “based on lineage and gender identity.” “Each citizen shall be provided with (a) Nepali citizenship certificate based on lineage of the mother or father along with gender identity,” it reads.