Nepal’s ruling party Nepal Communist Party has decided to amend the country’s citizenship law to allow naturalisation of foreign women married to Nepali men only after a waiting period of seven years. The party’s secretariat took the decision after a meeting, and a bill to amend the Citizenship Act will be sent to the Parliament for approval.
“Today’s Secretariat meeting has concluded that foreign women marrying to Nepali men should be given naturalized citizenship after seven years upon showing the proof of renouncement of previous citizenship or a similar document,” party spokesperson Narayan Kaji Shrestha said after the meeting. The matter of waiting period for foreign women married to Nepali men has been discussed in the country for two years now. The matter has been discussed in the federal parliament several times in the last two years, and the State Affairs and Good Governance Committee of Parliament has held over 140 meetings over it since the bill was first registered.
The committee has also proposed to issue a national identity card to such women after the marriage so that they are not deprived of social, economic and cultural rights until they are able to obtain Nepali citizenship.
While the ruling communist party is pushing for the 7 year waiting period, the main opposition party Nepali Congress favours continuing the existing period as per the Citizenship Act 2063, according to which foreign women can acquire Nepali citizenship after they denounce their previous citizenship. On Thursday, an all-party meeting was held to arrive at a consensus, but it could not be achieved as Nepali Congress stuck to its position. After that, the Communist Party decided to go ahead with the bill without consensus. The other two opposition parties, Samajbadi Party Nepal and Rastriya Janata Party have also supported the stance of the Nepali Congress on the issue.
While justifying the amendment, Nepal Home Minister Ram Bahadur Thapa had told media that India’s citizenship rules also have similar provisions. Section 5(1)(c) of the Indian Citizenship Act says that a foreigner who is married to an Indian citizen can apply for Indian citizenship after living in in India for seven years.
Misreporting by Indian media
While the reports by the Nepali media on the issue make it clear that Nepal is amending their citizenship rule for all foreign women, Indian media decided to give it a spin by reporting that the new law applies only to Indian citizens. India Today reported it with the headline “Indian women marrying Nepalese citizens will now get citizenship after 7 years of marriage”. They also mentioned in the report that the seven-year clause in the Indian law does not apply to Nepal. The report said that the minister “did not mention that this clause of India’s citizenship law does not apply to Nepal.” Times Now report said “Nepal amends citizenship law for Indians, cites Indian laws to justify change”.
Several other reports by Indian media made the same claim, and mentioned that Indian women married to Nepali men will have to wait seven years before acquiring citizenship. But this is blatantly fake news, as the proposed amendment applies to all foreign women, and it is not specific to only Indian women as Indian media houses are trying to convey. This seems an attempt by media to further deteriorate the Indo-Nepal relationship which is already at a low point after Nepal changed its map to include certain Indian territories.
The claim that Nepali citizens are exempted from the seven-year waiting period is also not correct, as no such provision is mentioned in the citizenship act. Nepali citizens are allowed to visit India without a visa and without any restrictions, and they can work here without obtaining any work permit. But that does not mean that there is any relaxation in the seven-year criteria for Nepali citizens wanting to acquire Indian citizenship. Neither the Citizenship Act nor the Indian govt website giving information on obtaining Indian citizenship mention such a provision.
Therefore, while the ruling party in Nepal has proposed to amend the citizenship law of the country, the amendment will apply to all foreigners and not only Indians as Indian media has reported. Moreover, Nepal is right in saying that a similar provision exists in India also. The claim that Nepali citizens are exempted from this provision India is also not correct.
Broadening issues between India and Nepal
In recent times, the relationship between India and Nepal has gone sore for multiple reasons. Nepal made changes in its political map in a legislative amendment and laid claim on Indian territories Kalapani, Limpiyadhura, and Lipulekh a few days back. Also, Nepalese security forces recently killed an Indian national and injured four in unprovoked firing.