Citizenship Act of India: Meaning, Controversies and Cases

26 May 2023  Read 7501 Views

The citizenship law in India has been controversial and debated in recent years, particularly due to the enactment of the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) in December 2019. The CAA introduced amendments to the existing citizenship law and sparked widespread protests and concerns. 

The protests were mainly led by citizens, activists, students, and members of several political & social organisations. As the citizenship law has undergone several changes over the years & remained a heated matter, the topic has gained immense importance even from the competitive exam’s point of view. 

So, let’s discuss in this article the Citizenship Act of 1955, its amendments, states with major citizenship issues and many more.

How can the citizenship be acquired?

According to the Citizenship Act of 1955, a person is said to acquire citizenship in the following ways:

  1. Citizenship by Birth: A person is considered a citizen of India by birth if they are born in the country on or after January 26th, 1950, but before July 1st, 1987. Also, remember that those born between July 1st, 1987, and December 3rd, 2004, are considered citizens if either of their parents is an Indian citizen or if neither parent is an illegal immigrant at the time of their birth.

  2. Citizenship by Descent: A person born outside India on or after January 26th, 1950, but before December 10th, 1992, is eligible for Indian citizenship if either of their parents is an Indian citizen at their birth. But, if the birth occurs after December 10th, 1992, the person can claim citizenship only if their father is an Indian citizen.

  3. Citizenship by Registration: Few individuals, like persons of Indian origin who have resided in India for a specific period, can apply for Indian citizenship through registration. This provision also applies to persons married to Indian citizens and minors whose parents are Indian citizens.

  4. Citizenship by Naturalization: Foreigners can acquire Indian citizenship through naturalization if they have resided in India for a minimum period of 11 years out of the 14 years preceding their application. The government can even relax this requirement for specific categories of applicants, like refugees etc.

Note: The dates mentioned in the context of Indian citizenship in these provisions, such as January 26, 1950, and July 1, 1987, etc., are determined through legislative processes & later amendments to the 1955 Act. These dates simply represent cutoff points which establish different criteria for acquiring citizenship. Several factors, like social, political & legal considerations, influence the decision to introduce these dates. 

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What is CAA 2019?

The Indian government introduced the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) in December 2019, which attracted immense public outrage and legal debates. The CAA granted citizenship to illegal immigrants belonging to six religious communities (Hindu, Sikh, Christian, Buddhist, Jain, and Parsi) from Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Bangladesh, who entered India before December 31, 2014. 

Read more about CAA 2019 here!

But the question is, why was this amendment criticised? This Act faced criticism for its alleged exclusion of Muslim immigrants, ultimately leading to protests, “Delhi Riots”.

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Issues of Citizenship with States in India

There are a few states in India where issues concerning citizenship have been historically controversial. These states have experienced prominent debates and conflicts:

  1. Assam

The citizenship issue in Assam has been a longstanding matter wherein the state has witnessed several movements and protests related to the presence of illegal immigrants, specifically from Bangladesh. The National Register of Citizens (NRC) was implemented in Assam to identify genuine Indian citizens and exclude illegal immigrants but this process has been controversial, raising concerns of statelessness.

Now, let’s go through one of the most important topics; the Assam Accord.

What is the Assam Accord?

The Assam Accord is an agreement signed on August 15th, 1985, between the Government of India and leaders of the Assam Movement, a mass movement that took place in Assam in the 1980s aimed at solving the concerns of illegal immigration from Bangladesh and its impact on the demographic, economic, and political aspects of the state.

The key objectives of the Assam Accord were to address the issues related to illegal immigration. Here are some key provisions of the Assam Accord:

  • Detection and Deportation: The accord focused on the detection and deportation of persons who entered Assam illegally after March 24th, 1971.

  • Electoral Rolls: The agreement pushed the revision of electoral rolls to remove the names of foreigners and ensure the integrity of the electoral process.

  • Border Security: The accord focused on strengthening security measures to curb illegal immigration from Bangladesh into Assam.

  • Economic and Cultural Measures: The agreement identified the need for providing constitutional, legislative, & administrative safeguards to safeguard the Assamese people's cultural, social, and linguistic identity. 

  • Rehabilitation: The accord focused on the need to rehabilitate displaced persons affected by the movement.

  • The Assam Accord included many complex processes, such as updating Assam's National Register of Citizens (NRC). 

  1. Jammu and Kashmir

Jammu and Kashmir have seen ongoing debates revolving around citizenship because of its special status and complex political history. The state’s relationship with India and Article 370 have always been a topic of discussion. The abrogation of Article 370 in 2019 and the subsequent reorganisation of the state into two union territories- J & K and Ladakh (one with & another without legislature) further intensified discussions about citizenship and domicile laws therein.

  1. Manipur

As stated earlier, citizenship issues have mostly prevailed in the northeastern areas of our country, and Manipur, which is again a northeastern state, has also witnessed citizenship-related controversies due to its proximity to neighbouring countries like Myanmar and Bangladesh. The issue of illegal immigration has been a serious issue, resulting in tensions and demands for stricter identification & verification processes to determine citizenship.

Now, one question for you, whether citizenship and domicile are the same? Let’s check it out.

Difference between Citizenship and Domicile





Legal status as a member of a country or nation

Residence or permanent home for legal purposes


Birth, descent, marriage, naturalisation, etc.

Established through physical presence in a particular place or intent


Provides rights, privileges, and responsibilities in a country

For example, A citizen is vested with fundamental rights, human rights etc., which must not be violated.

Determines jurisdiction to deal with legal matters, taxation & Voting

For example: If you have a domicile of MP, then any legal matter arising out of your transactions will be subjected to the jurisdiction of this state (MP).


Include political rights (voting, holding office, etc.)

Does not inherently provide specific rights


Applies to a specific country or nation

Applicable within a legal jurisdiction or a region


Generally needs a legal process or application for any modification

Can be modified through a change in residence or intent


Entitlement to a nation’s benefits

Legal implications for taxation, legal proceedings, and eligibility


Landmark Cases on Citizenship Law

  1. Sarbananda Sonowal v. Union of India (2005)

This case is also known as the "Assam Illegal Migrants" case, which dealt with the issue of illegal immigration in Assam. The SC held that the detection and deportation of illegal immigrants is crucial to protect the rights & interests of Indian citizens. The case resulted in establishing the Foreigners Tribunals and the subsequent updating of the National Register of Citizens (NRC) in Assam.

  1. Mohammed Sakeel v. State of Andhra Pradesh (2008)

The Supreme Court, in this case clarified the difference between nationality and citizenship and held that the grant of Indian nationality does not automatically confer Indian citizenship. It emphasized that acquiring Indian citizenship involves a separate legal process as enshrined under the Citizenship Act.

  1. National Legal Services Authority v. Union of India (2014)

This landmark case recognised the rights of transgender individuals and affirmed their right to self-identify their gender. This case focused on transgender persons who are entitled to all the rights and privileges available to any other Indian citizen, including the right to citizenship.

  1. Navtej Singh Johar v. Union of India (2018): 

This landmark case decriminalized consensual same-sex relationships in India by striking down Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code. The judgment recognized the rights of LGBTQ+ individuals and affirmed their right to dignity, privacy & equal citizenship.

Termination of Indian Citizenship

Citizenship can be terminated in 3 possible ways:

  1. Renunciation: If any Indian citizen who is also a national of another country renounces his Indian citizenship through a declaration in the prescribed manner, he ceases to be an Indian citizen. When a male person ceases to be a citizen of India, every minor child of his also ceases to be a citizen of India. However, such a child may, within one year after attaining full age, become an Indian citizen by making a declaration of his intention to resume Indian citizen­ship.

  2. Termination: Indian citizenship can be terminated if a citizen knowingly or voluntarily adopts the citizenship of any foreign country.

  3. Deprivation: The government of India can sometimes deprive a person of citizenship. But this is not applicable to all citizens. It is applicable only in the case of citizens who have acquired the citizenship by registration or naturalisation or only by Article 5 Clause (c) (which says citizenship at commencement for a domicile in India and who has ordinarily been a resident of India for not less than 5 years immediately preceding the commencement of the Constitution).

About the Author: Kakoli Nath | 275 Post(s)

She is a Legal Content Manager at Finology Legal! With a Masters in Intellectual Property Rights (IPR), a BBA.LL.B from ITM University, and patent analyst training from IIPTA, she truly specializes in her field. Her passion for IPR and Criminal laws is evident from her advanced certification in Forensic Psychology and Criminal Profiling from IFS, Pune.

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