Nepal: An Epitome for LGBTQ+ Rights?
Image Source: TheKathmanduPost
Forever and a day; that is how long it felt like to the Nepalese who rebelled against the Monarchy for over a decade. The Maoist Civil rebellion ended in 2006 AD and Democracy embraced Nepal assuredly. As with any political shift, Nepal’s transition from an absolute Hindu Monarchy to a festive democracy was hectic but it also had its own set of social enrichments; one of which was LGBTQ+ advocacy.
Despite the lack of proper documentation on Nepali queer lives before the 2000s, the existence of people with multifarious gender identities has been cited in Hindu epics such as the Mahabharat and the Ramayan as “third gender”. It is also noteworthy that the Gorkhalis defending our land from getting colonized by Britain, saved us from the plague of extreme Homophobia; unlike the former colonies. This augmented the tolerance for contrasting sexual-orientations in Nepal.
Having achieved notoriety as the beacon for LGBTQ+ rights, not only across Asia but across the globe too, Nepal has been relishing the advances in the ever-growing LGBTQ+ movement. It all started with the establishment of NGOs towards the end of the Maoist uprising, through which INGOs began donating for the social growth of several fields of the newly democratic nation; one of which was HIV AIDS. This vitalized queer activists into forming organizations like the Blue Diamond Society that advocated, and still continues to do so, for the sexual minorities and their rights in Nepal. Befriending and joining forces with other NGOs such as Maiti Nepal, Paribartan Nepal, etc bolstered the LGBTQ+ movement’s presence in the Nepali arena.
The Supreme Court ruling of 2007 is the most eminent LGBTQ+ political victory to date in Nepal. In 2007, four LGBTQ+ NGOs were successful in a petition against the government in Sunil Babu Pant (and Others) vs. Government of Nepal (and Others), resulting in the verdict calling on the government to do away with laws that discriminate on the basis of sexuality and gender identity, as well as to establish a committee to study the possibility of allowing same-sex marriage. This helped recognize a third gender category: Others (O). In response to the court’s order, the government identified over 100 laws that required change to eliminate bigotry against the LGBTQ+ community. A government-appointed committee then issued a report in early 2015, proposing the legalization of same-sex marriage. But neither gained as much attention as the Supreme Court’s order to legally recognize a third gender category.
By 2010, the Election Commission had added the third gender option to Voter rolls, and Immigration Forms soon jumped on the bandwagon. In 2015, the government began dispatching passports that recognized three genders. It was still extremely difficult for them to get employed. So, the same year, Civil Service Application Form included three genders, rendering Nepali Civil Service to be more Transgender-inclusive.
The latest, and potentially potent, development for the LGBTQ+ movement could have been seen in the Nepali Census scheduled for June, 2021 but it was postponed due to the surge in Covid-19 cases. Nevertheless, for the first time Nepal will count the LGBTQ+ population for the 2021 census. This move will allow them to benefit from social security schemes and quotas set for minority groups; including army, police, access to discounted healthcare, etc. This, in return, will hatch job opportunities for the sexual minorities. Officials at the Central Bureau of Statistics and many LGBTQ+ right activists are optimistic that this campaign will help establish their identity as a minority in Nepal.
Despite preceding the rest of the world in the LGBTQ+ movement notably with compassionate religious point of views and a lenient legal regime, in propria persona, the vast majority of LGBTQ+ Nepalese continue to face explicit bigotry. Same-sex marraige is still illegal in our nation. Transgender people still cannot own properties under their name. Deprived of equal employment opportunities, they have no alternative but to resort to Prostitution which increases the chances of HIV/AID transmission; for which - and this is hardly surprising - proper healthcare measures have not been set to motion.
On a more fundamental societal level, the “binary” view of gender and the associated expectations to be fulfilled, lack of proper funding and donations to LGBTQ+ NGOs, counterfactual as well as inadequate reporting of their undeniable and diverse existence in the Nepali media and, the utter absence of gender/sexual diversity in the academic syllabus are a few, among the abundant reasons, as to why it is painfully challenging for the members of this community to come out, simply be themselves and not be humiliated to their core.
It is incandescently evident that in Nepal, the members of the LGBTQ+ community are neither outright shunned, nor wholeheartedly approved of. The progress so far has not been actualized into the daily Nepalese lives, altogether. Therefore, despite being lauded as a beacon for LGBTQ+ rights across the world, the Himalayan nation has miles to go before it sleeps.
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