Nepal’s New Constitution Is Progressive, But Causes Protests
By admin October 9, 2015



Why is Nepal’s new constitution, its seventh in 67 years, in the news?

While controversial in some ways, the constitution, which was announced September 20th of this year, marks a new road for Nepal. Passing with a majority vote (507 out of 598 constituent assembly members, with 60 abstentions), the constitution ends a long and difficult struggle beginning in 2008, when a civil war ended and the monarchy was dissolved. It replaces the interim constitution that had been in place since that time. Some say it was the massive 7.8-magnitude earthquake in June, and the delayed response to it, that broke the standstill between the three major parties, the Nepali Congress, UML and Maoist parties, over the constitutional process.  The constitution now readies the way for democracy in Nepal. Current Prime Minister Sushil Koirala will step down and a new government will be established.

There are more than 300 clauses in the constitution. General rights include living with dignity, freedom, equality, communication, justice, freedom from torture and preventive detention, freedom from untouchability, property, religious freedom, information and privacy, freedom from exploitation, a clean environment, free education, language and culture, employment, healthcare, food, housing, women’s and children’s rights, for Dalits, senior citizens, social justice, social security, for consumers, and freedom from exile.

Although one clause which makes it harder for women to pass on citizenship to their children has been criticized, much of the constitution is quite progressive. Nepal has become the first Asian country to expressly recognize Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) rights. It also prohibits discrimination against “any citizen in the application of general laws on grounds of religion, color, caste, tribe, sex, sexual orientation, bodily condition, disability, status of health, marital status, pregnancy, financial status, origin, language or region, ideological conviction or any of these.” It also reserves the right to create laws for “the protection, empowerment or advancement of gender-based and sexually-oriented minorities.”

The constitution provides women with “equal ancestral rights” and employs positive discrimination and proportional inclusion “to give women the right to participate in all agencies of State mechanism and in health, education, employment and social security.” Nepal has abolished the death penalty and provided a method for victims of environmental pollution or degradation to seek remuneration from the polluter. Another key element to the constitution is its provision of free higher education to “citizens with disability and economically poor conditions.”

The constitution will decentralize Nepal into seven provinces, a move which has sparked protests in the southern area among ethnic groups the Madhesi, Janjait and Tharu, and caused the deaths of at least 40. The aftermath of the new constitution in this region, in the form of strikes, blockades and protests, has cost the Nepalese economy more than $1 billion, according to the Federation of Nepalese Chambers of Commerce.

India has expressed displeasure about the new constitution, claiming its exclusion and mistreatment of ethnic groups could lead to violence on its border with Nepal. India’s determination to change Nepal’s course, which reportedly included asking Nepal to create seven new amendments to address its concerns, has been extraordinary. India sent its Foreign Secretary S. Jaishankar on a diplomatic mission to discuss the constitution, which was unsuccessful. Nepal’s determination to stand on its own is clear. Other protests have come from Nepalese Hindus, who would like Nepal to be a religious, Hindu state, not a secular republic.

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