A protest against Citizenship (Amendment) Act, after Friday prayers, at Jama Masjid | PTI
A protest against Citizenship (Amendment) Act, after Friday prayers, at Jama Masjid | PTI
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We have all heard of NRI families who consciously choose to have their baby in the United States so that the child is automatically a US citizen from day one. For this ‘privilege’ of jus soli, or citizenship by birth, NRIs must thank this man:

Dred Scott, circa 1857 | Wikimedia Commons

In 1857, when Indians were mutinying against the British Raj, Dred Scott was a slave in the United States who appealed to the US Supreme Court for his freedom and that of his family. The US Supreme Court ruled that African Americans like him were not US citizens, even if they were born in the US and lived all their lives there, in slavery.

The Dred Scott case accelerated the anti-slavery movement that led to the US Civil War. Thereafter, in 1868, the United States passed the 14th amendment to the US Constitution that said, “All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside…”

Words of Unity

Some 79 years later, in 1947, the Constituent Assembly of a newly independent India was debating citizenship. There were those who felt India can’t offer citizenship as a birthright because that might encourage anyone to come to India and get Indian citizenship for their children.

One gentleman strongly disagreed.

Statue of Unity | @narendramodi/ Twitter
Statue of Unity | @narendramodi/ Twitter

Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel thought this was a “narrow view”. Patel said, “There are two ideas about nationality in the modern world, one is broad-based nationality and the other is narrow nationality. Now, in South Africa, we claim for Indians born there South African nationality. It is not right for us to take a narrow view.”

He went on to argue, “I suggest for your consideration how many foreign men and women come to India for giving birth to children to acquire Indian nationality. It is a curious idea that for that purpose you introduce racial phraseology in our Constitution. It is important to remember that the provision about citizenship will be scrutinised all over the world. They are watching what we are doing….

“Our general preface or the general right of citizenship under these fundamental rights should be so broad-based that anyone who reads our laws cannot take any other view than that we have taken an enlightened modern civilised view. The citizenship clause has been taken from the American model, which is more or less consistent with the English.”

It was this view that eventually prevailed. Anyone who was born in India was a citizen of India, or at least had the option to be. Re-affirming jus soli in the Citizenship Act of 1955, then Home Minister Gobind Vallabh Pant said, “The mere fact of birth in India invests with it the right of citizenship in India…we have taken a cosmopolitan view and it is in accordance with the spirit of the times, with the temper and atmosphere which we wish to promote in the civilised world.”


Also read: CAA rules must be stringent, offering citizenship only to real and not imagined refugees


Xenophobic home ministers

This “civilised” and “cosmopolitan” view of Indian nationality was changed first in 1986 and then, even more stringently, in 2003.

In 1986, India amended its Citizenship Act, decreeing that anyone born in India won’t automatically get Indian citizenship. At least one of your parents had to be Indian. That’s how India moved to the “narrow” view of nationality, known as jus sanguinis or citizenship by blood.

Who made this change and why? Meet the Minister of State for Home Affairs in the Rajiv Gandhi government:

Rajiv Gandhi and Sonia Gandhi enjoying a South Indian meal with P Chidambaram looking on, 1989 | karti.chidambaram/Facebook
Rajiv Gandhi and Sonia Gandhi enjoying a South Indian meal with P Chidambaram looking on, 1989 | karti.chidambaram/Facebook

He did it because of the same old fear of illegal Bangladeshi immigrants, and especially under the pressure of Assamese sub-nationalists. Leftists, activists and Muslim leaders could immediately see the dangers of this move. Somnath Chatterjee of the CPI(M) had said, “This bill is another sickening instance of surrender to chauvinistic elements and forces of disruption and divisiveness.”

The change in law came into effect from 1 July 1987. So, if you are born after 1 July 1987, the government can strip you of your Indian citizenship if you are unable to prove the Indian citizenship of at least one of your parents.

We are often told India is over-run by crores of illegal Bangladeshi immigrants. But we manage to find and deport only a few hundred every year. The hyper-exaggerated fear of illegal Bangladeshi immigrants was a particular obsession of another Home Minister of India:

Long time friends former Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee with ex- deputy Prime Minister Lal Krishan Advani in this photo shot
File photo| Atal Bihari Vajpayee with LK Advani | Sondeep Shankar / Bloomberg

L.K. Advani pushed through another amendment to the Citizenship Act in 2003 in the Atal Bihari Vajpayee years. This one decreed that if you are born on or after 3 December 2004, at least one of your parents must be an Indian citizen and the other parent must not be an illegal immigrant.


Also read: What 2019 Citizenship Amendment Act says and why the outrage over it


Why blame the child?

Effectively, that means you have to prove the Indian citizenship of both your parents if you were born on or after 3 December 2004. In other words, you may be a 15-year old in India today, born and raised in this country, never been abroad, but the government can strip you of your Indian citizenship just because you can’t prove both your parents are legit Indians (or one is a legit foreigner who did not enter India legally).

What is the fault of a child who is born in India, raised in India, with Indian culture and values, salutes the flag, sings the national anthem, and appreciates the Constitution? Let us say the child’s parents were both illegal immigrants, is it really fair to blame the child for it and make him/her a stateless person?

Even if nothing unites us, geography does. We are all Indians because we were born within its borders and we live here. Our future is a shared one because we live here. The fact that we were born and live here should be enough to earn us Indian citizenship. (It’s another matter if some of us want to ditch it for a stronger passport like patriot Akshay Kumar did.)

Threatening to strip people of their citizenship just because they can’t prove their parents’ nationality is a violation of fundamental human rights. Article 15 of the UN Declaration of Human Rights reads, “Everyone has the right to a nationality. No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his nationality nor denied the right to change his nationality.”


Also read: Vajpayee-Advani to Modi-Shah: This was India’s decade of political power duos


The solution

Those 19 lakh people staring at statelessness in Assam? The BJP’s solution is to offer them citizenship on the basis of religion. Sardar Patel would not have called this “enlightened modern civilised”. He would have baulked at the “racial phraseology” of the 2019 Citizenship Amendment Act.

A better solution would be to revert to jus soli, and let everyone who can prove they were born on Indian soil automatically become Indian. That should cover almost all of these 19 lakh people.

The BJP’s threat of an all-India NRC, along with CAA that excludes only Muslims, is seeing Muslims across the country run helter-skelter to obtain copies of birth certificates of their parents and even grandparents. It is fair to ask people to prove they are Indian, but to prove their parents were Indian is absurd.

Views are personal.

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16 Comments Share Your Views

16 COMMENTS

  1. National Register of Citizen is required in any country. However, these Law Makers and the Government is elected by the people whose names appeared in the voter’s list compiled by Election Commission of India which allows only Indian Nationale to vote for the candidate of its choice.
    Now, the same people are asking those who had elected them to prove whether they are Indians or not.
    Moreover, the documents required to prove that the person is Indian or not, I can challenge that even many of these Law Makers and their family members may not be having such documents and they will have to manage through their position while others will have to pay dearly to authorities to get by corrupt means.

  2. We seem to forget that the country was partitioned on basis of religion. At the time of partition substantial numbers of minorities in both countries migrated as per religion. Many continued in the hope that the leaders Jinnah and Nehru will pursue secular ways. However, in case of Pakistan it has not happened so – proof is that the minorities in both Pakistan and Bangladesh have reduced substantially while in India they have increased as a percentage of the population between 47 and now.
    As in 47, India as per CAA, makes it simpler for religious minorities in the partitioned countries to seek refuge in India while continuing with a standard policy for the rest as per all other countries. How is this majortarianism?

    • Exactly my point. And nation wide NRC hasn’t even been drafted to know which documents are required and which are not.

  3. THIS IS ALL FALSE PROPAGANDA AGAINST CAA, CAB. WITHOUT ANY NRC HOW CAN ANY COUNTRY PLAN ITS RESOURCES? ALL ARE TALKING NONSENSE WITHOUT UNDERSTANDING THE IMPORTANCE OF THESE TERMINOLOGIES THE ANTINATIONAL DACOIT CONGRESS , ITS ALLIES LEADERS AND FAKE DYNAST FAMILY MEMBERS ARE MISLEADING MASSES BECAUSE IN ODER TO GARNER VOTE BANKS THEY ALLOWED BILLIONS OF INTRUDERS FRO OUR NEIGHBOURING COUNTRIES AND NOW THEY DON’T WANT THEIR VOTE BANKS TO SLIP OUT TO THEIR MOTHERLAND. THOSE WHO ARE INDIANS NEED NOT HAVE TO WORRY ABOUT ANYTHING. THERE ARE SADHUS, SAINTS WITHOUT ANY DOCUMENTS BUT THEY ARE LEAST WORRIED ABOUT CAA, CAB, SINCE THEIR ROOTS ARE HERE BUT FOR THOSE WHO SPRANG FROM OUTSIDE AND FORCED ONTO INDIA, IT MUST BE MATTER OF WORRY BECAUSE WITH THESE BILLS AND ACTS THET OUGHT TO LEAVE THIS COUNTRY. AT THE SAME TIME HINDUS, SHIKHS, JAINS AND ANY OTHER COMMUNITY PERSECUTED IN MUSLIM COUNTRIES WILL BE WELCOMED HERE BECAUSE MUSLIMS AND CHRISTIANS HAVE N..NUMBER OF COUNTRIES TO TAKE REFUGEE OR GO BACK TO THEIR COUNTRIES. IT WAS MOGHUL NEHRU, WHO IS OLELY RESPONSIBLE FOR THESE PERENNIAL PROBLEMS, NAMO IS JUT TRYING TO CORRECT THE BLUNDERS OF MOGUL NEHRU.

    • INDIA AT PRESENT HAS A POPULATION OF 1.3 BILLION. IT IS OF INTEREST TO KNOW HOW MANY BILLION MUSLIMS WERE ALLOWED BY THE CONGRESS AND HOW MANY MILLIONS OF ILLEGAL MUSLIM MIGRANTS WERE FOUND IN ASSAM AFTER NRC WAS COMPLETED BY THE MODI-SHAH GOVERNMENT. EVEN A MENTALLY RETARDED CHILD WILL UNDERSTAND THE INTENT & PURPOSE OF MODI-SHAH’S CANARD

  4. HOW DO YOU EXPECT ENLIGHTENMENT FROM PEOPLE BRED ON BULLYING BASED ON NUMBERS OF THEIR RELIGIOUS COMPATRIOTS. IT IS NOT ONLY EDUCATION THAT MATTERS- THOUGH PEOPLE LIKE KAMARAJ WERE GREAT EXCEPTIONS- BUT BREEDING MATTERS MORE. IMAGINE IF THE USA, THE UK & THE EU AMEND THEIR CITIZENSHIP LAWS TO BE IN TUNE WITH INDIAN LAW AND THAT TOO WITH RETROSPECTIVE EFFECT SAY 1971 WHAT WILL HAPPEN TO MIGRANTS FROM INDIA TO THOSE COUNTRIES

  5. Very nicely argued. How is it fair that people who willingly give up their Indian passport or those who go to live in another land illegally, have more rights (OCI card for the first and no particular restrictions for the second) than those who have grown up in India and want to live here? Or even those who simply came – to escape whatever bad things they faced in their own land. Is it now the indian parampara to chase away guests with guns?

  6. Really this is the time for the civilized world to stop Modi madness in India otherwise it will radicalized Hindus and Muslims against each other and the worst there will be open civil war at many corners of India, and finally India will become a living Hell on this planet. India under Modi Raj is becoming Nazi Raj where the Constitution is almost dead; Police force can do anything they want. Hit and Kill small kids in elementary schools, tell them to get out from India and destroy their homes and belongings. The Civilized world must stop Modi madness in India now otherwise it will radicalized Hindus and Muslims against each other and the worst there will be open civil war at many corners of India, and finally India will become a living Hell on this planet.

    • You have No clue about CAA or NRC. First read CAA and NRC that says India needs to have a Census that includes everyone so that government can plan services to cater for All not only certain sections of society.Get your facts first.In Western countries this is how governments collects number of household and where they live so that infrastructures like schools, roads, hospitals,libraries are built and then governments can collect Income Tax.How many percentage os Indian pay Income tax 14-16% only but demand services?Illegal people every where in the World cost the Exchequer lots of money.So next time check your facts before you blabber off.

  7. This all started when Nehru while enacting on personal laws of all religion kept Muslim out of the law and giving unconstitutional body like Muslim personal laws board a justification giving way for the religious body to control life of people of secular country.
    If CAA is anti secular then please tell how UCC is anti secular.

    • first what is uniform civil code and explain the sources/basis of its framework?Will it be based on International standards or from Vedic times, then we can find out wether it is secular or not? so many laws and practices prevalent in the country for Hindus specifics like HUF, succession rights in property etc..etc and still you talk of UCC which muslims will oppose. Take the case of triple Talaq bill, although it has nothing to do with 99.99% of muslim men, passed as law whereas muslim men will be punished under criminal code whereas Hindu men who run away from wife or discard his wife will he be punished under criminal law too? and recently women’s entry into sabarimala referred tor SC bench after verdict by SC because of it is against their faith. Isn’t it a Double standard.

  8. Asking bureaucrats to sit in judgement over citizenship of 1.35 billions people is monstrous. They say in Hindi “Bandar ki Haath mean Talwar”. we will certainly have miscarriage of justice when several million people will be unable to prove their citizenship rights with no guarantee that illegal immigrants won’t be able to produce fake documents / bribe their way into citizenship. Guaranteed both mistakes will happen.

    The power to deny citizenship to a person and all his descendants is a power greater than power of life & death. the burden of proof cannot be on people. Government should have the burden to identify and prosecute illegals…they cannot persecute Indians.

    • FROM THE AGE OF GIANTS WE SHOULD HAVE PASSED INTO THE AGE OF BIGGER GIANTS . UNFORTUNATELY, LEADERSHIP IS GETTING MORE AND MORE MIDGET( PARDON THE EXPRESSION, DEAR FOWLER)WITH PASSAGE OF TIME

      • So according to you anyone from our borders can infiltrate and be awarded Indian citizenship?How absurd your mind is?Israel,USA,Germany put up walls to prevent illegal migration and you have said nothing? CAA & NRC are there to count number of citizens so the government of the day can accomodate services for its citizens. But people like will construed always against joining hands to move forward?

  9. Thanks Dred scott.

    If American history is to be inspired for then Abhrahm Lincoln is to be thanked also, who fought war ( 2lac dead ) for principle against slavery.

    Unlike our leadership who surrendered inspite beleiving in secularism & then also casualty of 20 lac innocent civilians.

    Great founding fathers

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