Nepal becoming haven for persecuted lesbians

April 22nd, 2009 - 2:45 pm ICT by IANS  

By Sudeshna Sarkar
Kathmandu, April 22 (IANS) Sunil Babu Pant, Nepal’s first openly gay MP who is also the founding president of the country’s first gay rights organisation, the Blue Diamond Society (BDS), received a distress call recently. Two girls, both in their teens, who had left their home in India’s Kolkata city after their families opposed their lesbian relationship, wanted his help.

They had heard that Nepal’s Supreme Court had given its nod to same sex marriages and wanted the BDS to help them get married.

“But though the court has approved of same sex marriage, the government is yet to enact a law,” Pant told IANS. “Also, we are unsure if Nepali laws would hold (good) in India.”

The pair’s wish for a church wedding had to be shelved because while one was a Catholic, the other was a Muslim. When Nepal’s churches expressed their inability to perform the ceremony, the BDS offered to hold a civic ceremony.

“This is the second lesbian marriage that I am organising in three days,” said Dil Kumari Buduja, BDS coordinator for the lesbian community.

Buduja, who prefers to call herself Badri, last year contested the election as gays went to the hustings openly for the first time, along with transgenders and eunuchs.

Last week, Badri helped two Nepali women, both in their late 30s, “tie the knot” in Chitwan district in south Nepal.

“While one works as a security guard, the other runs a small business,” Badri said. “They had been waiting for the government to enact a new law but then decided to take the plunge as they felt time was running out for them.”

Badri estimates there are now about 1,200 lesbians who have come out of the closet while Nepal’s sexual minorities, including homosexuals and transgenders, would number over 200,000.

To work for the legal and other rights of the growing lesbian community, the once conservative kingdom of Nepal now has four lesbian support groups: Saino Nepal in Chitwan, Sangini Nepal in Birgunj town, Nawalo Srijana in Nepalgunj and Sahara Samaj in Itahari.

A fifth “Kathmandu Sashakti Samuha” would open this summer in the capital.

“It would have opened earlier but now we are busy working on the new constitution,” Badri explains.

Nepal’s former guerrilla party, the Maoists, won an election last year that mandated them to draft a new pro-people constitution by next year. The government is seeking suggestions from all communities to make the new statute democratic and inclusive and the sexual minorities, who had been ignored by a succession of earlier governments, hope to have their voice heard in the constitution for the first time.

Two years ago, Nepal’s army sacked two women recruits for being lesbians.

In an indication of the changing times, now one of them has taken the powerful army to court, fighting a dogged battle to get reinstated.

Badri attributes the growing clout of the community to the fact that in Nepal the sexual minorities have been working hand in hand to wrest their rights from an uncaring government.

“I went to a gay meet in Cape Town last year,” she says. “I was shocked to see how the communities from India, Bangladesh and even developed nations like Japan behaved. The gays would have nothing to do with the lesbians and the lesbians shied away from the transgenders. In the process, the voice of protest got divided and became weaker.

“But in Nepal, all of us are fighting together. And that’s our strength.”

(Sudeshna Sarkar can be contacted at sudeshna.s@ians.in)

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