By Karma Lobzang Bhutia.he can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
The views are of the writer not of Sikkim Chronicle
As the world celebrates ‘International Mothers Day’, let me bring your attention to an issue many mothers of Sikkim face that unfortunately never makes it to the limelight. The rights of Sikkimese women married to non-Sikkimese men have been neglected by our policymakers, intellectuals, media, and society for long. It has never made a part of any political discourse,the State Women Commission has never spoken about it, and no NGOs are talking about it. There is no official data on how many such cases exist today.
Ours is a proud State with tall claims that our society doesn’t discriminate based on gender, which is valid to a large extent. When we see the status of women in other parts of the country, except for a few Northeastern States, women don’t enjoy the same liberty and freedom as their male counterparts. However, with a closer look at our society, can we say with all sincerity and honesty that women of Sikkim enjoy equal rights compared to men?
The most outstanding example is right in front of us. Our systemic discrimination and historical wrong against those Sikkimese women who choose to marry a non-Sikkimese.
To obtain a certificate of identification(CoI) or Sikkim Subject, a person’s ‘father’ must have a valid CoI or Subject. The mother’s document has no impact whatsoever. This very argument reveals that a Sikkimese daughter is Sikkimese only as long as she chooses to marry a fellow Sikkimese. When that changes, our system and society will strip away her children’s rights to being Sikkimese. However, the irony is that if a man chooses to marry a non-Sikkimese, his children face no trouble and are eligible for the CoI. These mothers are Sikkimese as long as they are alive, but they will die with the sad fact that their children can never become one. If we claim ourselves to be a society that does not discriminate, why do we let our mothers be treated as lesser citizens? We as a society need to pause and reflect on this issue and take it to a logical conclusion.
Where our law stands
It is the 21st century where women are stepping into different roles, and the concept of equality is not a far-fetched dream. However, the discrimination faced by the mothers of Sikkim is a blatant violation of our Fundamental Rights under Art 14 to 18, which says that gender cannot be a basis of discrimination.
On the 11th of August 2021, the Supreme Court of India gave a landmark judgement making it very clear that daughters are equal shareholders of ancestral properties at par with sons. This judgment should allow Sikkimese women the same rights as Sikkimese men. However, this Hindu Succession Act that covers all other religions except Islam and Christianity is not applicable in the State of Sikkim. To make the matter worse, our State doesn’t have legislation on this matter.
A century-old Revenue Order No.1 of 1917 mentions that a woman should follow the Nationality and Community of her husband. It further says that Bhutia/Lepcha can sell her land within her community if it was acquired before her marriage. She could sell land acquired by her after the marriage to non B/L. This law went through some changes in 2018 concerning land registration, but none regarding the rights of Sikkimese women.
Where our society stands
While many are unaware or indifferent, some blatantly oppose the rights of Sikkimese women. While patriarchy is one of the reasons, other arguments for opposition include fake CoI, increased competition for Government jobs and infiltration of non-Sikkimese into the State. Let me give my counterarguments for each.
One argument is that many such children make fake CoI. The question, however, is why should they have to? We must empower these children to be eligible for a CoI legally. Logically, the children of Sikkimese women should have the same rights as the children of Sikkimese men. Hence, if we are driving our children to take such illegal routes by not pursuing this case, that will be a failure of the State. There are organizations which are doing an excellent job of identifying fake CoI holders in their private capacity with little resources they have. It’s high time for strong legislation to fight against fake CoI cases. However, the issue here is of ‘rightful ownership of CoI’. It is detrimental for the future of our State that we weed out all illegal/fake CoI holders. Our State needs a leader who makes a solid stand against fake CoI holders and aspire to bring strong legislation. As of now this huge task is shouldered by few public organisations.
The argument regarding competition in government jobs honestly amuses me. I understand the sentiment because ours is a nation enamoured with the idea of having a government job. The last time Sikkim Public Service Commission (SPSC) conducted the state civil services exam was in 2017, for a mere 11 seats. Most other states’ Public Service Commissions conduct exams yearly. It’s, therefore, almost humorous to speak about Government jobs when there aren’t any jobs! However, times are changing, and government jobs are no longer the only option for employment. Many might choose to have a non-Government career but still identify as Sikkimese. But the State doesn’t even give a choice.
The final argument of infiltration of ‘others’ is challenging to address in a society deeply scarred by the concept of ‘us’ vs ‘them’, ‘locals’ vs ‘non-locals’. Hence I illustrate two examples for you to ponder.
Case 1: Tashi (he/him) was born, brought up, and studied in Gangtok. He went to Delhi for further studies, met a girl from Delhi and married her. They chose to live there for some time. Later, he returned to Sikkim and happily lived with his children- both CoI holders, who later inherited his ancestral property.
Case 2: Pema (she/her), just like Tashi, was born, brought up, and studied in Gangtok. She worked hard and found love with a man in Gangtok (who did not hold a CoI as his family was from Kalimpong). Both Pema and her husband lived their whole lives in Sikkim, but their children’s futures were uncertain. She could not transfer her property to her children, so their only option was to sell all that was hers and find life elsewhere.
The cases I have illustrated here are fictional, but I will not be surprised if it bears a resemblance to someone. There have been many ‘Pemas’; Daughters of Sikkim, whose only ‘mistake’ was that she was born a daughter.
Giving children a place in their ‘motherland’
The women marrying a non-Sikkimese may fall under either of the following-
Sikkimese women married to Sikkimese men (non-transferrable CoI)
Sikkimese women married to men in Sikkim (non-CoI holders/ Non-SS)
Sikkimese women married to non-Sikkimese (other states)
Sikkimese women married to foreigners
Sense of place and belonging play an essential role in a human being’s identity. This feeling is peculiar, particularly for the first two cases stated above. Children of these Sikkimese mothers grow up in Sikkim with a deep sense of belonging and responsibility to the land. However, by not providing them with rights, we make them doubt their own identity. This uncertainty in identity is a sentiment shared by many children from such families. These children need to be given a place on this land, their ‘motherland’.
We continue to be governed by rules that treat our daughters like lesser humans in the eyes of the law. 21st Century Sikkimese women need to fight against this historical wrong. However, it is not just ‘their’ fight. It is ‘our’ fight; a fight for every parent who has or might one day have a daughter, every brother who has a sister, every grandfather who has a granddaughter. We need leaders and political parties to take a clear and uncompromising stand on this issue. Past, present, and the future of all the daughters of Sikkim are at stake and we as a society should do everything possible to make sure that they WIN.
Happy Mother’s Day to All