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Nepal readies to recognise third gender voters

world Updated: Nov 18, 2009 16:00 IST

Close on the heels of the Indian election authorities recognising third gender voters, Nepal's Election Commission has also begun a massive project to grant recognition to voters who are neither male or female but transsexuals and transgenders.

Shyam Sundar Sharma, joint secretary at the Nepal Election Commission, said the Himalayan republic had begun the process to upgrade the voters' list almost eight months ago and was happy at the Indian decision but not influenced by it.

"In Nepal, we read the Indian decision with interest," Sharma told IANS. "We are glad the Indian Election Commission decided to recognise third genders' identities in the voters' registration forms. However, we have noted that the decision came after an order to that effect from the court.

"In Nepal, we took the decision to recognise the third gender voter without any court order. We are curious why it took India so long."

Nepal last went to the elections in April 2008, which resulted in a sea change. The former Himalayan kingdom was transformed into a secular republic and its Maoist guerrillas, who had fought an armed insurrection for 10 years, came to power for a short period after emerging as the largest party.

The constituent assembly that was elected agreed to promulgate a new constitution by May 2010.

"We are readying for the next general election on the premise that it will be held within six months of the new constitution coming into effect," Sharma said.

"If things go as per schedule, Nepal will have its general election in November 2010."

The next general election will see, for the first time in Nepal's history, a voter being registered as either male or female or third gender.

Nepal's population stands at about 27 million. There are about 17.6 million eligible voters so far.

Sharma estimates that the new change will not cause the number of voters to go up dramatically.

"The constitution grants everyone the right to vote," he said. "And many third genders, who are above 18 years, are already enrolled as voters.

"The new decision will simply establish their sexual identities."

The official said the Election Commission intends to hold discussions with Nepal's only openly gay member of parliament, Sunil Babu Pant, and the gay rights organisation he has founded, Blue Diamond Society.

"We would like to discuss the technicalities," he said. "Whether the third gender would like to be identified as third gender or have a specific gender identity."

Besides homosexuals and lesbians, Nepal's sexual minorities also have metis, men who feel they are actually women trapped in a male body, and eunuchs.

Nepal's Supreme Court issued a series of directives to the government in the past, making Nepal the most progressive country in South Asia.

Besides asking the government to end all discrimination against the community, the apex court has also given the go-ahead to same-sex marriages.

The April election also struck a blow for third genders, seeing members from the community contest for the first time and with the major political parties wooing them with promises to ensure their rights.

However, the security forces still remain homophobic, especially the army.

The BDS is fighting a case in court against the dismissal of two women who were sacked due to the allegation they were lesbians.