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Who Is An Indian Citizen And Why Is Their Identity Being Redefined Now?


Starting from the basics, one should be very clear about the difference between a citizen and non-citizen. The population of a state can be divided into two categories:

Citizens And Non-citizens

  • A citizen of a state enjoys all civil and political rights.
  • A non-citizen, on the other hand, doesn’t enjoy these rights.

Under our Indian constitution, there are certain fundamental rights available only to its citizens, namely: right against discrimination on the grounds of religion, race, caste, sex or place of birth (Article 15); right to equality of opportunity in matter of public employment (Article 16); freedom of speech and expression, assembly, association, movement, residence and profession (Article 19); cultural and educational rights (Article 29 and 30); and right to vote and become members of the union and state legislatures.

Equality before the law or equal protection of the laws within the territory of India (Article 14) and protection of life or personal liberty (Article 21) are applicable to non-citizens as well.

The Indian Constitution doesn’t prescribe a permanent provision relating to citizenship in India. It simply describes categories of persons who are deemed to be citizens of India on the day the Indian constitution was promulgated on January 26, 1950, and leaves citizenship to be regulated by law made by the parliament. Article 11 of the Constitution confers power on the Parliament to make laws regarding citizenship. The Indian Citizenship Act, 1955, was enacted in exercise of this provision.

Provisions Under The Citizenship Act, 1955

The Act provides for acquisition of Indian citizenship in the following ways:

i) Citizenship by birth: Anyone born in India on or after January 1, 1950, would be deemed a citizen by birth. This limit was further amended to include those born between January 1, 1950 and July 1, 1987.

By the Citizenship Amendment Act, 2003, persons born after December 3, 2004, would be deemed citizens of India if either of the parents is Indian or one of the parents is a citizen of India and the other was not an illegal migrant at the time of the person’s birth.

‘Illegal migrant’ means a foreigner who has entered India without a valid passport or travel documents; or with a valid passport or travel documents who remained in the country beyond the permitted period of time.

ii) Citizenship by descent: A person born outside India shall be deemed as a citizen of India if either of the person’s parents was a citizen of India at the time of their birth, provided that the birth is registered within one year of its occurrence or commencement of the Act, whichever is later, at the Indian consulate.

iii) Citizenship by registration: A person may be registered as a citizen of India if the person is married to a citizen of India or has been a resident of India for five years immediately before making an application for registration.

iv) Citizenship by naturalisation: A person is granted a certificate of naturalisation if the person is not an illegal migrant and has resided in India for 12 months before making an application to seek the certificate. Of the 14 years preceding this 12-months duration, the person must have stayed in India for 11 years.

v) Citizenship by incorporation of territory: If any new territory becomes a part of India, the government of India shall specify the persons of the territory to be citizens of India.

If the central government is of the opinion that an applicant is a person who has rendered distinguished service to the cause of science, philosophy, art, literature, world peace or human progress generally, it may waive all or any conditions specified to attain Indian citizenship.

Provisions In The Citizenship (Amendment) Act, 2019

Image credit: Getty Images

The newly amended law provides for granting of Indian citizenship to Hindus, Sikhs, Jains, Buddhists, Parsis and Christians from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan who came to India on or before December 31, 2014.

The law will not be extended to Rohingya Muslims persecuted in Myanmar, Shia and Ahmadiyya Muslims in Pakistan, Hazaras, Tajiks and Uzbeks in Afghanistan, Tamils in Sri Lanka, and atheists in Bangladesh.

Why Citizenship Amendment Act Unconstitutional ?

Last December (2019), the Indian Parliament passed the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), which gives non-Muslim minorities originally from neighbouring countries (Bangladesh, Afghanistan and Pakistan) a path to citizenship. There were also talks of the government introducing a registry of citizenship across the country, widely known as National Register of Citizenship (NRC).

The NRC process has already taken place in the northeastern state of Assam, leaving hundreds and thousands of people at risk of statelessness. The CAA, combined with the proposed nationwide NRC, risks disenfranchising Muslims across the country as it provides a pathway to citizenship for non-Muslims but has no remedies for Muslims caught up in NRC processes.

In August 2019, the NRC was published in the northeastern state of Assam. This process led to the disenfranchisement of about two million people. Soon after, there were fears of how this exercise might affect the rest of India, as India’s ruling party, the BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party), announced that it would implement such a registry throughout the country.

A few months later, in mid-December, the Indian Parliament passed the Citizenship Amendment Bill (now CAA or Citizenship Amendment Act), which essentially introduced a religion-based clause to existing Indian citizenship laws by giving minorities from neighbouring Muslim majority countries — Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan — a faster path to citizenship. However, it explicitly excludes Muslims. In part, this measure was intended to remedy the unanticipated inclusion of many Bengali Hindus and other minority faiths in the NRC, thereby providing them a path to citizenship.

But such a move is clearly discriminatory against Muslims and counter to Article 15 of the Indian Constitution, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of religion, caste, race, sex and place of birth. Since this development, there have been wide protests across India where, in many instances, protesters have faced police brutality, with violence perpetrated even inside university campuses especially in Jamia and AMU where police illegally entered in University campuses, and brutally tortured and beat up the students with stun grenades and expired  tear gas shells.

In February, there were episodes of anti-Muslim violence in Delhi that a leading scholar of Hindu-Muslim violence in India described as a ‘mini-pogrom.’

These measures are  violation of the secular foundations of the Indian constitution and a means to weaponise citizenship. There is a historical context that has made citizenship a contested and controversial process in India. After the Partition in 1947, people in the territory of India were essentially eligible for birthright citizenship. Hindu refugees coming in from Pakistan, however, often had to deal with citizenship challenges.

Almost 40 years later, in 1986, the Indian Parliament passed a law in which, to be eligible for citizenship, at least one parent had to be Indian. Nevertheless, it was during the early 2000s in the BJP’s first term in office that the notion of classifying migrants and refugees based on religion was set in motion.

Legal experts say that the new citizenship law violates the fundamental right under Article 14 of the Indian constitution that guarantees equal protection of laws, even to the aliens, in the territory of India.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

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Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

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A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

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A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

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A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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