Kathmandu – Nepal has adopted a new constitution, seven years after its last king stepped down, and the first to be drawn up by elected representatives.

Nepalese performers dressed in traditional attire take part in celebrations of the announcement of a new constitution in Kathmandu on September 21, 2015 © AFP/File Prakash Mathema
Nepalese performers dressed in traditional attire take part in celebrations of the announcement of a new constitution in Kathmandu on September 21, 2015 © AFP/File Prakash Mathema

The new charter, adopted on Sunday, has triggered deadly protests and a transport blockade along the border with India, cutting off vital supplies to the landlocked Himalayan nation.

Here are answers to some key questions about the new charter and the demonstrations.

What does the new constitution say?

It establishes Nepal as a secular federal republic after centuries of royal rule and a decade-long civil war between Maoist insurgents and the state.

The charter divides the country into federal provinces, but the internal borders were a key sticking point and lawmakers initially said they would leave that task to a federal commission.

When the Supreme Court ordered them to resolve the issue before adopting the charter they struck an agreement on six provinces, later revised to seven after protests in the west of the country.

The new charter also seeks to increase the participation of historically marginalised groups including women and people from lower castes through a system of election via proportional representation.

It pledges to end discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.

Who opposes the constitution?

The charter has sparked protests from many quarters. Right-wing groups who wanted the country to remain officially Hindu staged frequent demonstrations in Kathmandu before the document was passed into law.

Rights groups say the constitution discriminates against women by making it more difficult for mothers to pass on citizenship to their children than fathers.

But the deadliest protests have involved ethnic minorities living in Nepal’s southern plains bordering India, with more than 40 people killed in weeks of clashes between police and demonstrators from the Madhesi and Tharu communities.

What are the protesters so upset about?

Madhesis and Tharus have long complained of being treated like second-class citizens and facing discrimination at the hands of high-caste highland communities.

Both groups say the new internal borders will leave them under-represented at the ballot box and in the national parliament.

They are also upset that Nepal’s leaders ignored their pleas for a change to the internal borders while giving in to pressure from protesters in the west of the country before the constitution was adopted.

What changes do they want to see?

They want the government and its allies to revise the internal borders and restructure the country in such a way that their communities secure greater political representation and enjoy more autonomy.

Madhesis also want a key provision on citizenship to be changed. The charter currently prohibits naturalised citizens from holding senior positions in government.

Many Madhesis were denied citizenship until a 2006 law liberalised the process and sought to end discrimination against non-Nepali speakers born and raised in the country, allowing them to acquire naturalised citizenship. The charter would bar them from seeking higher office.

Why is India concerned?

India, which has traditionally exerted significant political influence in Nepal, is worried that violence will spill over to its territory.

Close familial ties bolstered by marriages between Madhesis and north Indians living just across the border also account for New Delhi’s interest in the fate of millions living in Nepal’s southern plains.

The two nations share a porous border, but now as protesters attempt to block major overland checkpoints, the movement of cargo has slowed down or in some cases stopped completely, cutting off vital supplies to landlocked Nepal.