Citizenship is a bundle of rights, which defines the relationship between an individual and the State.
Enjoyment of some of the fundamental rights, and many of the statutory rights in India are dependent on having Indian citizenship.
Citizenship by birth and descent
Countries all over the world follow two concepts of citizenship :
In the first model, citizenship is granted to all those who are born within the territory of the country, regardless of the nationality of the parents.
In the second model, citizenship is granted to one based on the nationality of any of or both the parents, regardless of the place of birth.
India has been following a combination of both these models in its citizenship laws.
As per Article 5 of the Constitution, a person with domicile in India is an Indian citizen, if :
So, domicile coupled with birth or descent are the main factors for citizenship.
It will be interesting to note that during the framing of the Constitution, some members argued for including religion as a factor for grant of citizenship. But this proposal was rejected by the Constituent Assembly, which envisioned India as a secular republic.
The Constitution also had provisions for granting citizenship to those migrated from Pakistan, based on fulfilling certain conditions (Article 6).
The Constitution also stated that a law made by Parliament on citizenship will have overriding effect on the provisions of Constitution (Article 11). The Citizenship Act passed by the Parliament in 1955 is that law. Various changes made to this law have considerably diluted the principle of jus soli for Indian citizenship.
Modes of acquiring Indian Citizenship
There are four modes of acquiring citizenship under the Citizenship Act 1955 :
Citizenship by birth (sec 3)
Section 3 of the Citizenship Act deals with Citizenship by birth.
When the law was first made in 1955, this Section stated that all those who are born in India on or after January 1, 1950 will be an Indian citizen.
This was amended in 1986, and birthright citizenship was limited to those who were born in India between January 1, 1950 and January 1, 1987.
An added condition that one of the parents must be an Indian citizen was introduced for granting citizenship to those who were born in India after January 1, 1987. It also changed the definition of 'Indian origin' by excluding from its purview those people whose grand-parents, but not parents, were born in India.
The condition for birthright citizenship was further tightened after 2003 amendment, which stated that those who were born after December 3, 2004 will be eligible for Indian citizenship only if one of the parents is an Indian citizen and the other is not an illegal migrant.
Citizenship by Descent (Sec 4):
An individual, who is born outside India and either of whose parents is a citizen of India at the time of her birth, will be a citizen of India by descent. But this is subject to fulfilling a condition that her birth should be registered with an Indian consulate within 1 year, along with a declaration that she does not hold a passport of any other country.
Citizenship by Registration (Section 5)
This mode opens the door of Indian citizenship to foreign citizens who have some bond with an Indian citizen by way of marriage or ancestry. The applicant has to satisfy the conditions of prescribed periods of domicile in India for this.
Congress politician Sonia Gandhi obtained Indian citizenship through this method.
Citizenship by naturalization (Section 6)
This is the route for Indian citizenship for those individuals who have no link with India by way of blood, soil or marriage.
The conditions for naturalization are mentioned in the Third Schedule of the Act.
The applicant (not being an illegal migrant) must have been a resident in India for a continuous period of 12 months before making the application. And out of the period of fourteen years before the said period of 12 months, the applicant must have resided in India for an aggregate of 11 years.
The recently passed Citizenship Amendment Act 2019 reduces this period of 11 years to 5 years for non-Muslim migrants from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan who had entered India before December 31, 2014.
Pakistan singer Adnan Sami and Dalai Lama are examples of persons who got citizenship under Section 6.
The Centre has the power to waive of all the conditions of naturalization for an individual who in its opinion has rendered distinguished service to the cause of science, philosophy, art, literature, world peace or human progress.
Those who obtain citizenship by registration and naturalization have to declare an oath of allegiance to India, and should renounce their previous citizenship.
The Supreme Court in the case of K. Krishna Vs. Union of India and ors J.T. 2007(7) SC 258 observed that an individual cannot claim citizenship by way of naturalization as a matter of. It is the pleasure of the Government of India to grant or not to grant.
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Illegal migrant has no right to Indian citizenship
An illegal migrant is disabled from seeking Indian citizenship by way of naturalization. As per Section 2(1)(b) of the Act, an illegal migrant is a foreigner who entered India without a valid passport or travel documents, or has been overstaying in India beyond the time permitted in the documents.
The Citizenship Amendment Act 2019 makes an exemption from this disability in favour of non-Muslim migrants from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan. The 2019 amendment has inserted a proviso to Section 2(1)(b) to state that Hindus, Sikhs, Jains, Buddhists, Parsis and Christians who migrated to India from these countries before December 31, 2014 will not be treated as illegal migrants.
Losing Indian citizenship
An Indian citizen can lose her/his citizenship in three ways :
Renunciation (Sec 8):
A person may renounce their Indian citizenship, by submitting a declaration to that effect to the prescribed authority. On registration, the individual and her minor child will cease to be citizens of India . The minor child on attaining majority, has the option of resuming the Indian citizenship by submitting an application to the concerned authority, within a year of attaining majority.
Termination (Sec 9):
Since Indian law does not recognize dual citizenship, an individual ceases to be an Indian citizen on acquiring citizenship of another country.
Deprivation (Sec 10):
Only the citizenship which has been acquired by way of registration or naturalization can be cancelled.
Overseas Citizenship of India
As stated above, Indian law does not permit dual citizenship. However, in view of the long standing demands of persons of Indian origin who have acquired foreign citizenship, the concept of Overseas Citizenship of India was introduced through the 2005 amendment made to the Citizenship Act.
Section 7A was inserted in the Act, to provide for OCI card for Persons of Indian origin.
OCI is not actual citizenship of India. It is a status, which gives certain privileges such as multiple-entry & mult-purpose life long visa, exemption for registration under Foreigners Act, parity with Non-Resident Indians. It has many limitations such as no right to vote, no right to hold constitutional offices, and no right to buy agricultural properties