Ensuring Rights Of Gender Minorities

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Nepal became a secular state in 2008 from the only Hindu country in the world. Therefore, Hindu culture, tradition and values are deeply embedded in the people’s mindset here. After the change of Nepal from an absolute monarchy to a secular state several laws related to gender and social inclusion have been formulated or promulgated to ensure the rights of the Nepali population no matter which class caste or community they belong to. One of the progressive laws of Nepal being hailed all over the world is the inclusion of the LGBTQI community in the “other” category and ensuring their rights as equal citizens of the country. In this regard, Nepal recently registered the first same-sex marriage. 

Dr Prof Beena Poudyal, former Head of the Central Department of Nepali History, Culture and Archaeology, Tribhuvan University, says that in the Hindu scriptures, there are several cases of transgender characters. There are examples like the male character of Il changing to Ila in Vishnu Purana, and the Moon seen as male and female in different occasions in different Hindu mythology. In Rig Vedas, there is a mention of Mitra and Varun, both male, living together and sharing intimate relations. The role of Shikhandi in Mahabharat is another example of transgender characters and physical relationships between same sexes in Hindu scriptures. However, while talking about the recent registration of the first same-sex marriage in Nepal, Dr Poudyal says that although a welcome step in ensuring rights of all minorities in the country, full social and religious acceptance of such couples may not be easy. 

“Inter-caste marriage is not new in Nepal now, however, it is still not done openly and there are many families who hide the cast of the spouse of their children. Therefore, acceptance of same sex marriage will not happen overnight, it will take time,” states Dr Poudyal. She mentioned that although mythology had implications that sexual minority were portrayed as different characters in different scriptures and there were examples of sexual and physical relationship between same sexes, the main basis of Hindu marriage focussed on the need for living beings to generate younger generation. The union of male and female to bear children was the main idea of marital union, more than physical and sexual satisfaction. This notion is still very much the main basis of marriage as an institution.

It will take a long time for people to come to terms with the fact that same-sex marriage was legalised. She has said that science has progressed and children can be obtained through different ways now but in a society where religious, traditional and cultural values have strong roots, for same-sex couples to be accepted will have several challenges that need to be addressed.”  Maya Gurung and Surendra Pandey are the Nepali couple who made history on 27th November 2023 by registering the first same-sex marriage in Nepal. The couple opined that they are now promoting same sex marriage not only for Nepali couples, but the Rainbow community all over the world via an NGO they just registered called Mayako Pahichan - Identity of love. On 10th December 2023, Yak and Yeti hosted a reception for them.

Born as Ram Bahadur Gurung, a male child to Harimaya Gurung and Kul Bahadur Gurung in 1985 in Lamjung, little did his friends and community know then, that 38 years later he would return as Maya Gurung, a transgender woman, to register her marriage to a gay man Surendra Pandey. Sunil Babu Pant, former member of parliament and founder of the Blue Diamond Society remarked that the marriage that was not registered in the Kathmandu District court was registered in Dordi rural Municipality and the local community there celebrated it with gusto.  

In the Gurung community, there is a traditional folk dance called Maruni in which males are dressed to dance as females. “I used to always be selected as a Maruni dancer and taken to perform in Kathmandu, and while dancing I felt like I was indeed a woman, but I realised only after I ran away in Kathmandu during one of the performances, that I was indeed a woman,” said Maya. She now identifies herself as a transgender woman, but has not changed her gender on official documents. In Kathmandu she came across the Blue Diamond Society which made her realise that her feelings were normal.Maya met Surendra Pandey, who is eight years younger than her, in Kawasoti, Nawalparasi District in 2015. Pandey was born a male and identifies himself as a gay male. Orphaned at the age of six, he grew up in an orphanage and had to stop his education after completing grade ten. He is now earning a living as a plumber.

Legal rights

 “I grew up without love and care, and when I met Maya, we shared a lot of the difficulties life had brought our way, Maya offered to love me and I fell for her,” said Surendra. Two years after their meeting, they got married in a religious function at a temple with the help of their friends. They tried to register their marriage in the District Court, Kathmandu, which was refused on 13th July 2023, despite the Nepal Supreme Court’s order that directed the government to register such unions. They were both involved in seeking legal rights to their marriage and finally on 27th November 2023 their marriage was legally registered at the Dordi Rural Municipality office at Lamjung, the district from where Maya came. 

Senior Advocate Dinesh Tripathi says that the registration of the same sex marriage in Nawalparasi recently is legally binding and although laws regarding such marriages are yet to be formulated, Article 16 of the constitution of Nepal guarantees all citizens to live a life of dignity. “There could be issues related to adoption of children, divorce, property rights, etc. which has to be amended in the Nepali laws to suit the legalisation of same sex marriage,” he says.  Tripathi stressed that right to equality is the cardinal principles of human rights and as Nepal government is signatory to several human rights treaties, it is now the responsibility of the State to ensure rights of couple who have registered their marriage under same-sex marriage. 

(Sharma is a senior journalist and women rights advocate. namrata1964@yahoo.com Twitter handle: @NamrataSharmaP)

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