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How first NDA regime created the crisis that its new citizenship law deepens

The roots of the current crisis in citizenship jurisprudence go back to the Citizenship (Amendment) Act 2003, which made more stringent the possibilities of acquiring Indian citizenship by birth, descent, registration and naturalisation.

How first NDA regime created the crisis that its new citizenship law deepens A protest against the CAA and the proposed nationwide NRC at Jamia Masjid, Delhi

In Arms and the Man (1898), GB Shaw has Captain Bluntschli say: “My rank is the highest known in Switzerland: I’m a free citizen.”

It is slightly over a hundred years since all of India rose in answer to Gandhi’s call against the colonial Rowlatt legislation. Arrests, firings (as in Jallianwala Bagh, Amritsar), air-bombings (as in Gujranwala) and martial law (in the Punjab area) followed. These events hardened the people’s commitment to a composite nationhood and signalled the beginning of the end of the British Empire. Notwithstanding the Partition of India in 1947, the commitment to a composite Indian nationality and citizenship was reflected in India’s Constitution.

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Citizenship in India is determined primarily by the Constitution and the Citizenship Act of 1955. The Act has been amended from time to time; but the Citizenship (Amendment) Act 2019 introduces religious discrimination into the law. It takes a turn inconsistent with modern India’s historical and constitutional definition of itself.

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Article 6 of the Constitution of India had referred to those who had migrated from Pakistan. Under the conditions set out, persons of diverse religions came to India and were treated as Indian citizens and/or registered as such. This was taken for granted, and even provided for in diverse rules for certain specified periods. The manner of acquisition of citizenship after the commencement of the Constitution was left to be dealt with by Parliamentary legislation and this is how the law of 1955 came to be enacted.

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The Citizenship Act of 1955 included, among other things, provisions for acquisition of citizenship by (i) birth (ii) descent (iii) registration (iv) naturalisation and (v) incorporation of territory. Apart from this, a special power was given to the centre to issue, in certain circumstances, a certificate of citizenship in cases of doubt. This power still exists.

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