‘The law has to be compatible with human rights’

Print edition : January 23, 2015

Anupama Roy. Photo: By Special Arrangement

Interview with Anupama Roy, Professor, Jawaharlal Nehru University.

THE concept of citizenship in India has undergone fundamental changes without anybody taking much note of these. From bestowing the right to become a citizen on everybody born within the territory of India after Independence through the Citizenship Act of 1955, it has gradually changed to making it more and more conditional through subsequent amendments. In Mapping Citizenship in India (OUP, 2010), Anupama Roy brilliantly traces this shift. In an interview with Frontline, she explains the exclusions around the concept of citizenship.

Is racism embedded in the policies of the Indian government regarding citizenship?

Not just the policies, the law on citizenship has shown a tendency where blood ties and Indian descent ( jus sanguinis) have assumed primacy over the principle of jus soli. The inclusive frameworks of citizenship in the 1955 Act, through subsequent amendments in 1985, 2003 and 2005, have been constrained to make Indian citizenship dependent on being a person of Indian origin. In 2003, for example, when the category of Overseas Indian Citizenship was inserted through an amendment in the Citizenship Act, citizenship by birth was confined only to those who were born to Indian parents. The OCI status in 2003 was limited to apply only to persons from 16 countries in North America, Europe and Australasia, where the success stories of post-Independence migrants from India were generated, occluding those who migrated as indentured labour in the colonial period to African and Caribbean countries, as well as West Asian countries, compelling Fatima Meer of the African National Congress to comment that the OCI was nothing but “dollars and pounds citizenship”.

What are the policies of other countries when it comes to giving citizenship? Are they more liberal or conservative?

All countries have shown tendencies of securing their “own” or opening up spaces for preferred nationalities. Germany, for example, has for long been averse to registering foreigners as citizens, and has been comfortable living with large numbers of resident aliens as guest workers (the Turkish immigrant population, for example). While Germany allows retention of German citizenship to persons of German origin who have taken up citizenship of another country, dual citizenship, along with naturalisation, aroused political passions and conflict. In the case of France, where the jus soli principle has been dominant, the change in nationality laws in the 1990s required people to “become French” through a “declaration of such a will”, when they turned 18. The controversy over head scarves and the pedagogy of citizenship being produced in the schools show a distinct tendency towards the shifting paradigms of citizenship in the country.

What is the ideal model for India to follow?

No model can be prescribed for any country, and making its nationality laws is an aspect of a country’s sovereignty. Only, the law should be compatible with human rights and dignity.

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