Nepal to legalize same sex unions?

Kathmandu, Nepal : A report on CNN has indicated that the Nepal government is actively considering giving its nod to same sex marriages. If this is so, it will become the first South Asian country to do so. This may have happened sooner  but the earthquakes have stalled things.

Bhakti Shah

Bhakti Shah

The parliament is now considering legalizing same-sex marriage after a government-appointed committee issued a 150-page report in February that recommended Nepal follow positive global trends on gay rights. The report urged Nepal to adopt equal marriage and family protections and delete discriminatory provisions from criminal and civil codes.

Nepal is more tolerant of the ‘other gender’ than of gay people. Bhakti Shah fulfilled a dream of joining the army at 18. Four years later, soldiering turned into a nightmare. Not that Shah couldn’t pass muster. But she was really a he. . He was a woman when he became a soldier. He served for four years, and then the army accused him of having sex with a woman in the barracks and punished him with 60 days of solitary confinement before his dismissal.

Seven years later, aged 29, Bhakti Shah is a transgender man working for LGBT rights. Gay, lesbian and transgender people have long faced discrimination in Nepal and Shah has paid a heavy price for his sexuality

Today, Nepal has made surprising progress. The Himalayan nation is ahead of the curve when it comes to certain rights, despite the post-earthquake image of an impoverished, corrupt and underdeveloped land. Nepal has been particularly open to recognizing its transgendered citizens.

“I used to think that maybe they will send me into exile,” Shah says. “Will they persecute my parents? Will they kill me?” Now, Shah says, he harbours hope that he will be able to lead a normal life with the woman he loves.

A landmark 2007 ruling by Nepal’s Supreme Court ordered the government to end discriminatory practices against the estimated 3,50,000 people who make up the LGBT community and paved the way for equal rights legislation. Nepal became the first country in the region to decriminalize gay sex. Nepal allows people to identify themselves as a third gender on its immigration forms.

Nepal added a third gender category to its census in 2011 and earlier this year, the government agreed to issue passports that would allow people to check “O” for other in the gender box if a person did not want to be identified as either male or female. Shah’s passport still says “F” but he intends to change it.

Hari Phuyal,was the lead attorney in the landmark case. He recalls that colleagues thought he was crazy for defending the rights of “unnatural people.” “The president of the bar association asked me why I wanted to disturb the harmony of society,” he says. The decision gave rise to greater LGBT activism in Nepal. Marginalized sexual minorities felt empowered to assert their rights and they scored some success.

Phuyal says he’d expected a decision by now but the earthquake in April plunged Nepal into chaos and put everything on hold. If the bill passes, Nepal would become the first country in Asia to recognize gay marriage. It has already been a leader for transgender rights.

“In the West, people are more focused on gay and lesbian issues,” Phuyal says. “Here we have legal recognition of transgenders. As a society many do not like the idea of gay people but we have a link with the third gender.”

That’s partly because the concept of a third gender is steeped in Hinduism, the religion followed by 80% of Nepalis. Centuries-old cultural traditions include the role of hijras, who can be eunuchs, transgender or intersex. They were celebrated in Hindu texts and held influential positions. Hijras often appear to bestow blessings at a marriage or when a baby is born.

Scholars point to the hijras as one reason why Nepal, along with neighbours India, Pakistan and Bangladesh — all socially conservative nations — allow third gender identification, a right that transgender activists in the United States are fighting for.

These options are liberating to trans people, says Manisha Dhakal, 40, deputy director of the Blue Diamond Society, Nepal’s first and most powerful LGBT advocacy group founded by the nation’s first openly gay member of parliament, Sunil Pant. “Being asked to be male or female violates our identities,” she says. Like Shah, the soldier who lost his job, Dhakal struggled with her gender when she was growing up. She was born as Suben, a boy who wore his mother’s clothes and smeared her lipstick on his lips.

She says many transgender people in Nepal are bullied as children and later become sex workers, a trade that leaves them wide open for abuse. Dhakal’s brother is still not supportive of her choices.

She became an activist through her involvement with HIV programs but says programs for the transgender community should not be limited to disease prevention. Nepal, she says, has been forward thinking in many ways but myriad challenges remain. Passing legislation is a big accomplishment, but it takes years to change people.

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Posted by on June 8, 2015. Filed under Breaking News,Nepal,RAINBOW. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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