Local villagers in parts of Nepal bordering Uttarakhand are opposing the proposed Citizen Amendment Bill, which makes residency in Nepal for seven years a mandatory condition for citizenship, according to local government officials. The locals claim that the proposed bill is discriminatory towards women and will dent the age-old ‘Roti-Beti’ relationship between the people of the two countries. Villagers on the Indian side of the border said if the bill is passed, they would stop marrying off their daughters in Nepal.
On June 21, Nepal’s parliamentary committee had endorsed the proposed bill mandating a seven-year probation period for women marrying Nepalese men.
Nepal’s citizenship amendment bill is the latest in a series of recent developments to impact ties with Uttarakhand’s bordering villages. There’s already an uncertainty clouding trade with Nepal in the border areas amid the pandemic and ongoing tension over conflicting territorial claims between the two countries.
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The residents in bordering areas claim that if the proposed citizenship amendment bill is passed, the people in border areas of India would stop marrying off their daughters to men in Nepal.
“If the law gets implemented then will be a major and upsetting development for us because we have not just trade but strong cultural ties with people in border areas on the Nepal side,” said Gopal Singh, village head of Khumti village in Pithoragarh, about 15 km away from Nepal border.
Pithoragarh is among the three Uttarakhand districts including Champawat, and US Nagar, that share borders with Nepal. Banbasa, a border town in Champawat district, is the major border crossing point in the state.
“If our daughters will get Nepalese citizenship after seven years of marrying a Nepalese man, then why would we marry them to a Nepalese man? She would have no rights there and is likely to be a stateless person despite living there,” Singh said, adding that marriages between people of Khumti and those across the border is an old tradition.
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There have been reports of protests in some parts of Nepal against this seven-year naturalization provision of the proposed citizenship amendment bill. Nepali Congress, Samajbadi Party Nepal and Rastriya Janata Party Nepal have also opposed the proposed bill, according to government officials who quoted sources in Nepal.
Vinod Kala, a social activist in Banbasa town in Champawat district said, “It will definitely affect the ‘Roti-Beti’ relationship between the people of two countries and would further dent the bilateral ties.”
Kala claimed that “at least 90%” of the locals in Banbasa would be affected by the amendment. “Only the remaining 10%, who are of Nepalese origin and have settled here, would be able to marry their daughters in Nepal,” he said.
He also claimed that the law, if enforced, would further hamper the border trade which is “already under a cloud of uncertainty”.
“The border trade with Nepal has already hit a low in Banbasa. And if this law comes, then it will probably hit the dead-end because the nationalistic sentiments of the people might get hurt,” said Kala.
However, some people in border areas of Nepal think the proposed law will not hurt the cultural ties between the people of the two countries as it was a ‘political matter’.
Madhav Prasad Joshi, a prominent and influential trader in Kanchanpur town of Nepal near the border said, “The matter is a political one but the ties are cultural which have been there for centuries…The law is not for just Indian women but every non-Nepalese women marrying Nepalese men,” said Joshi.
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