KATHMANDU: A 45-year-old Dalit woman who was raped nearly 20 years ago but was scared to lodge a police complaint and the daughter she gave birth to are the new heroes for women in Nepal today, after wresting a landmark victory for all women in the country.
Ms Parvati Damai (not her real name), who came from Dolakha district in northern Nepal, the preying ground of women traffickers, gave birth to her daughter, Sabina, and brought her up almost single-handedly, stoically enduring insults by her conservative village society for the absence of a father for her daughter.
Today, the Damais have blazed a trail, having successfully won a case in Nepal’s Supreme Court to get state recognition for the 18-year-old as her mother’s daughter.
“Two years ago, after I finished my school-leaving examination, my mother and I went back to Dolakha to get a citizenship document for me,” says Ms Sabina, now studying commerce in a high school in the Kathmandu valley.
“We had read in the papers that the government had announced people can get citizenship cards based on the identity of their mothers. I never saw my father, I never knew who he was; my mother is the one who brought me up on her own.”
However, when the Damais went to the chief district officer in Dolakha, a rude shock awaited them.
“I was humiliated and refused a citizenship card,” says Sabina. “How could you not have a father? The official taunted me. Did you fall from the sky or grow out of the earth? I lost heart, I thought I would never get my right, but my mother encouraged me to soldier on.” The two women had also read in the papers about an organisation in Kathmandu, Forum for Women, Law and Development, that provided legal support to women. They had also seen its chief, Ms Sapana Pradhan Malla, who is also a lawmaker nominated by the ruling communist party, appear on television and espouse women’s causes.
They decided to approach the Forum for help and it agreed to fight their case in court with three more NGos.
In January, Ms Sabina filed a writ petition in the Supreme Court, asking that she be given citizenship since her mother was also a Nepali citizen. The court ruled in her favour recently.
The issue of citizenship remains one of the thorniest in Nepal.
In 2006, after a pro-democracy movement, a new constitution took up cudgels on behalf of women and pledged citizenship to anyone whose father or mother was a Nepali citizen; it also sought 33 percent seat reservation for women in all spheres.
However, the statute’s decree is flouted by many officials and the new constitution that is expected to replace it in May has already run into protests for proposing provisions discriminating against women in the new
But for now, Ms Sabina and her mother are elated. “I am delighted,” said Sabina, who wants to become an interior decorator. “I never thought I would get justice. But now that I have, I hope it will help other women like me get their rights.”
Ms Sabina has been invited to Dolakha to be felicitated next week. It’s also the time that she plans to stride into the chief district officer’s office once more, with her fresh application and the court verdict in hand and her head held high.