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Nepal's gays want legal recognition

Homosexuality is a punishable offence in the country and gay groups are seeking changes in laws against them.

india Updated: Aug 24, 2006 12:41 IST
Sudeshna Sarkar (IANS)
Sudeshna Sarkar (IANS)

When the Maoist guerrillas and the government begin discussions Friday with the committee framing a new constitution for the country, Nepal's gay community wants a voice in the new charter of rights.

Metis, males who see themselves as feminine, mardanas, females who see themselves as masculine, samalingis, homosexuals and lesbians, transgenders and other sexual minorities in the Himalayan state - where homosexuality is a punishable offence - are demanding changes in laws that discriminate against them, and representation in the elections that the government has promised to hold by next year to allow people to choose between monarchy and a republican form of government.

The Blue Diamond Society, Nepal's most visible organisation fighting for the rights of gays, lesbians and transgenders, its sister organisation for lesbians, Mitini Nepal, and Shakti Samuha, an NGO for former victims of trafficking, are pressing for changes in the criminal laws formulated nearly five decades ago that declare "unnatural sex" to be a criminal act punishable with one year in prison and a fine ranging from NRS 500-5000.

"In Nepal, natural sex is understood by the law as penile-vaginal sex only and unnatural sex include sodomy, lesbianism, oral sex and masturbation," the groups said in a joint statement.

According to them, little was known at that time about sexual orientation and gender identity and agitation for equal rights for gays, lesbians, transgenders and bisexuals was yet to emerge. But now, with a global movement wresting recognition for sexual minorities, Nepal too needs to accommodate the changes and condemn discrimination on the ground of sexual preferences.

The Blue Diamond Society itself has been at the receiving end of the 1963 law with a Nepali lawyer filing a case against it on the ground that it was promoting homosexuality in Nepal.

Gay rights activists are also demanding changes in the citizenship law. "Tesrolingis (transgenders) must be recognised as tesrolingis in the citizenship card and other government certificates," they say. "Not just as male and female."

The new constitution, they say, must grant the fundamental right of equal wage regardless of gender as well as compensation for trafficked women, transgenders and men.

Two more important changes demanded by them are related to marriage and property rights.

The groups are recommending that marriage or civil union between two individuals regardless of their sex, gender, sexual orientation and gender identity, be legally recognised. Also, tesrolingis must be given property rights.

However, it remains to be seen if their voices would be heard. Nepal's feudal society abhors homosexuality with gays routinely abused and raped, at times by security forces.

During the 15-month direct rule of King Gyanendra, Blue Diamond Society says its projects, approved by earlier governments, were stalled by the social welfare council, the state agency supervising NGOs in Nepal.

First Published: Aug 24, 2006 12:21 IST