Nepal’s phallocentric worldview on citizenship

The phallocentric world view that has seeped into the power structures of Nepal for generations explains why the citizenship bill has a provision requiring a Nepali mother to prove that the phallus is a Nepali.

Mukesh Baral

  • Read Time 6 min.

We were directly facing the Narayanhiti palace and its majestic view from the coffee shop. The proximity with the palace was such that it almost felt like the spire that King Mahendra built was enjoying a coffee conversation with us. One of my friends stated that the view actually is the fruit of Ganatantra. He was right. I got an opportunity to see the Narayanhiti palace from that vantage point because Nepal is a Republic. 

For the first time, I could see the spire, along with the throne building, which reportedly was interpreted by the architect Benjamin  Polk himself as a design that was supposed to “maintain independence from its two giant neighbors.”

To Polk’s credit, or probably by the grace of the temple on the base, the spire stands defiantly even after the fall of the monarchy. The independence has remained intact.

It seems the vantage view of the palace is just one advantage of a young Republic as Nepal is undergoing some real changes as it implements the words in the constitution. But the fear of losing independence always resurfaces with every change Nepal makes.

Interestingly, independence is always seen from the phallocentric lenses. Consider the citizenship bill debate that surfaces in almost every conversation. New foreign bride’s ability to acquire Nepali citizenship right after marrying a Nepali bridegroom appears to be the most controversial amidst everything in the bill. The phallocentric fear-mongering is seeing every bride from foreign countries as suspect. And the phallocentric state structures are making sure that the Nepali bride has no way out but acquire the citizenship of her husband’s country or leave Nepal for good.

Nepali citizen mother’s inability to obtain citizenship by descent without unnecessarily being scrutinized about her partner or spouse speaks to that. The mother must declare that the father is unidentified and will be penalized if her partner is identified to be a foreigner. It pretty much makes it impossible for citizenship by descent to materialize for the child of a Nepali mother married to a foreigner. Interestingly, no father would have to identify the mother of the child or be penalized if the mother turns out to be a foreign citizen. 

This bill is awaiting the stamp of approval from the president. And the fear mongering phallocentric networks are appealing to the woman president not to authenticate the bill. Such is the power of patriarchy. It figures out a way to implement its code of conduct. The phallocentric world view that has seeped into the power structures of Nepal for generations explains why the bill has a provision requiring Nepali mother whose husband remains untraced to continuously justify that the phallus, in fact, is a Nepali. 

Patriarchy is creating a narrative of loss and fear to such heights that even the most logical minds will fall for their narrative. The point I am making here is: The phallocentric power structures of the new republic are basically the replica of the old power structures which are static and so fixated that they are difficult to change. Have you ever wondered why Bhimsen Stambha was prioritized for reconstruction over earthquake-ravaged schools and colleges? Because it became an icon of national identity. 

Photo courtesy: Sangya Dhungana

The phallus-like structure that basically has no use compared to the schools and colleges required for education, devoured billions—3.5 billions according to some reports—which could have been used for rebuilding earthquake ravaged schools. You can see Kathmandu from the top of Dharhara, but do you really need to spend billions to enjoy the view of Kathmandu, when you have a better view of it from the hills surrounding the valley? 

The question Nepal should be asking is how can it stop the brain drain that is happening right now. How it can provide a safe and respectable space to make a living for young generations right here in Nepal. 

Bhimsen Stambha is not just a tower, it is the replica of the patriarchal power structure that needed to be erected at any cost. It has become an ego tower for the nation. Lately, these types of protruding structures are being erected everywhere. There is a frenzy, a race to construct more view towers undercutting the budget for education, health and everyday needs of struggling citizens. But there is money for these structures because they fit well into the narrative of phallocentric power structures. 

Bhimsen Stambha and Narayanhiti spire (you may add to the list) continuously remind us that it’s the protruding phallus-like structures that fundamentally are important without being useful. They in a way have been accepted as symbols of excess, power and patriarchy. That is why it is impossible to imagine Kathmandu without Dharahara, and Narayanhiti sans the spire.

As a non-resident Nepali, and a father of an 11 year old daughter, I am watching this citizenship bill and the debate it has created closely. I know the NRN organizations are jubilant about the new provision on the bill that they think is a game changer. The bill actually empowers the NRNs, except from the SAARC countries, to not only carry their old citizenship but also enjoy economic, social and cultural rights. 

I should confess I have no such feeling of triumph for me or my wife or for my daughter. I have not forgotten that the power structures of this country gave me a run around for two years to just give me the citizenship I deserved because my mother declined to produce in person the phallus that they were adamant that my mother should produce, if she wanted me and my brother to become citizens of this country.

I have written in detail about this previously too. I really do not want my daughter, who received her citizenship in her cradle from the country of her birth, to deal with the phallocentric power structures of Nepal that her grandmother fought for life. We have a desire to raise a daughter who is culturally and linguistically aware of herself and this Nepal visit is the driving force of that desire. 

I am convinced that the taste of an authentic Nepali cuisine, her ability to read the sign boards in Nepali, speak to her grandmothers in her mother tongue, and the love of her relatives will be the gravity that is going to ground her in Nepal, not the provision of NRN citizenship.

And let me be honest to the phallocentric power structures of Nepal. Nepal is not going to be safe by undermining half of the sky and erecting unnecessary hurdles to the new brides who are willing to relinquish their citizenship of birth and join the half sky that their husbands hail from. The strength of a nation is in its ability to facilitate citizens to live a meaningful life and make them feel valued and an integral part of the nation building, not give them unnecessary run around to acquire citizenship.

The question the phallocentric Nepali power structures should be asking is how can they stop the brain drain that is happening right now, as I am writing this. How can it provide a safe and respectable space to make a living for young generations right here in Nepal who are considering entering into the labor force of the Middle East? How can the government bring the young “rider” from Jhapa, who we accidentally bumped into in Dubai, return to Nepal and work on his dream right here? How can a government create a growth space for a taxi driver from Kavre who has returned from Abu Dhabi teasing the possibility of joining college? Or how can it keep an MIT graduate who has recently returned to Nepal and is frustrated around his inability to renew a document without bribing the phallocentric corrupt local government?

The newly reconstructed Bhimsen Stambha, inaugurated and caressed by the previous Prime Minister, is again beaming with pride and appears to be teasing Tudikhel for its inability to clean the junk of its construction. Perhaps, Tudikhel is yet to be on the radar of powerful people. Perhaps it is awaiting the real fruits of the Republic. Perhaps the phallocentric government of Nepal will understand the true value of Tudikhel sooner than later.

Mukesh Baral is Cofounder at Advocacy for Refugee and Immigrant Services for Empowerment (ARISE), a nonprofit organization based in Massachusetts.

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