A ray of light in South Asia

Nepal has been in the news for all the wrong reasons after adopting its new constitution. Like the protests by Madhesi people who say it discriminates against them. But one positive feature of the constitution has been overlooked by the Indian media: its concern for the Himalayan country’s LGBTI (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex) community .

Nepal has become the first Asian country, and the fourth globally (after South Africa, Ecuador and Fiji) to explicitly grant fundamental rights to ‘gender and sexual minorities’ in its constitution. It now bans any kind of discrimination based on sexual and gender orientation and grants LGBTI people with right to participation in state machinery.

“Nepal has come up as a ray of light in South Asia and I hope it will light up the world,” Sunil Babu Pant, a pioneer of the LGBTI movement in Nepal, tells Metrolife. The 43-year-old crusader had formed the Blue Diamond Society in 2001, which championed the LGBTI rights in Nepal, leading to the decriminalisation of homosexuality in 2007.

At a time when India continues to treat homosexuality as a criminal offence under the 150-year-old Section 377, Nepal has provided its LGBTI community the right to citizenship ID, giving them the option of opting for the ‘other’ category in all official documents, along with the right to equality and social justice. Recently, Bhumika Shrestha became the first Nepali transgender woman to travel abroad with an ‘other’ category passport.

Birendra Raj Karki, a law student in Nepal feels that every human has inherent rights by birth. “Each human birth in this world is equal, despite its gender. When the world has embraced males and females as equal entities why not LGBT?” he questions.

Concurring, Pant says that Nepal is much ahead of India when it comes to prevalent attitudes towards its sexual minorities. “The Nepalese society is far more harmonious and inclusive when it comes to the LGBTI cause. Here, around 73 per cent of people support their cause. Religious leaders are much more tolerant, and sometimes step forward to bless couples.” Pant tells Metrolife. He adds that the Nepali community is “far less judgmental” about the LGBTI populace as compared to its Indian counterpart.

Similar sentiments can be heard in India as well. National award-winning filmmaker and gay rights activist, Onir, feels that India is an arrogant country and has made a joke of the LGBTI cause. “Right now, the only focus of the government seems to be economics and money. However, the first and foremost duty of the government should be to uphold human rights,” says the director of movies like My Brother... Nikhil and I Am .

While one feels that the Indian youth today is more supportive of sexual minorities, there is still a large section of the population which has not accepted the LGBTI community as being one of them.

Referring to the 2014 Supreme Court judgment, which reversed the Delhi High Court verdict decreminalising homosexuality, social activist and founder of the Mumbai-based Humsafar Trust, Ashok Row Kavi says, “Even if one citizen of India sees his rights trampled upon, the job of the judiciary is to protect those rights.” So the only question that comes to mind– will India learn from Nepal ?

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