This session was presided over by Niraja Gopal Jayal, professor at the Centre for the Study of Law and Governance at the Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi. Introducing her, Ramachandra Guha praised that she is an interdisciplinary scholar and her work is genuinely comparative.
Beginning with the meaning of Citizenship, Niraja said that Citizenship was once an electrifying term. Post-independence, it empowered people in the sense that they felt a patriotic belonging to a nation newly liberated from the clutches of colonialism. She opined that citizenship today is characterised by menacing undertones.
Niraja dealt with Indian Citizenship as a legal status, as an identity and as a right, each existing in a parallel world of its own. She stated the fact that India adopted birth-based citizenship. During the Constitutional assembly debates, heated arguments took place enabling a final decision. Drawing a timeline she said since 1985 however, India has witnessed a steady shift from birth based to decent based citizenship, which had become more pronounced off late with the National Register of Citizens ( NRC ) and The Citizenship ( Amendment) Bill, 2019 ( CAB ). NRC in Assam which purportedly aims at alienating illegal immigrants from Bangladesh is a form of carving out Muslim minorities. CAB legitimizes religious differences by outlining six religions qualified for fast track citizenship. All of these, she pointed out is a travesty of the constitutional concept of citizenship which envisioned equality for all citizens alike.
The second dimension of identity, in her view, is prefigured. Initially, She held that identity with India did not conflict with linguistic identities or religions for that matter. It was pluralistic. Fast forward to today, vigilante violence against minorities like Dalits, Muslims and women belonging to these sects is on the rise and the perpetrators enjoy impunity. “What places them above the law ?”, Neerja asks.
The third world of rights was overarching bringing within its sweep civil and legal rights, welfare schemes and legislations like Right to Information. Due to time constraints, Niraja respectfully skimmed through the last dimension to reiterate the dangerous implications of NRC on the 3 worlds of Citizenship.
Citizenship is a glorious term invoking a myriad political as well as patriotic sentiments. It is with conversations like these making us aware that we can begin to acknowledge the state of affairs as is and hope to strive for the lofty ideals enshrined in the Constitution.
About the Author: Charishma V is just another complex, creative pseudo-adult who can wear several hats. Her blog is at charishmavreddy. She currently writes for TheSeer. Instagram handle – @poetry_over_prose