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Nationality vs Citizenship

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People generally use nationality and citizenship as synonyms.  But actually these two words are different from each other in many ways.

This article is based on the difference between these two words.

The provisions related to citizenship in the Indian Constitution are given in Articles 5 to 11  under Part II of the Constitution.  The Citizenship Act, 1995 provides 5 ways to obtain citizenship in India-

  1. Based on Birth
  2. Based on Descent
  3. By Registrering themselves
  4. By Naturalisation
  5. If India acquires a territory

 Definition of nationality:

“A person’s nationality reveals his or her birthplace, or it is known from which origin the person belongs to.”  Nationality assigns certain rights and duties to a person.  A nation provides protection to its citizens from foreign invasion, in return for which it expects citizens to perform their duties towards the nation.

According to international conventions, every sovereign country can decide according to the law of its country that to whom citizenship can be awarded.

Definition of citizenship:

A person’s citizenship is given to him by the country’s government when that person complies with the legal formalities.  Thus, on the basis of citizenship, the birthplace of a person cannot be traced.

Once a person becomes a citizen of a country, he gets the national events of the country like the right to vote, the right to work, the right to buy and live in the country.  Apart from giving rights to citizens, the Indian Constitution also emphasizes certain duties like paying taxes, respecting national symbols, respecting the national anthem, protecting the dignity of women and fighting to protect the country if necessary.

Now some of the major differences between nationality and citizenship are as follows:

  1. Nationality is a personal membership that a person gets with birth in the country. Citizenship, on the other hand, is a political/legal situation that a person gets along with completing certain formalities.
  2. Nationality tells about the place or country where the person is born while citizenship is granted to the person by the government. Like Adnan Sami (singer) is a citizen of Pakistani origin but he has got citizenship of India by completing some formalities.

(Astronaut Sunita Williams has nationality as Indian (mother or father being Indian) but she is a US citizen.

  1. The concept of nationality is indigenous or ethnic, while the concept of citizenship is of legal or judicial nature.
  2. Nationality can be acquired by birth and inheritance whereas citizenship can be obtained on the basis of birth, heritage, nature, and marriage, etc.
  3. Nationality cannot be changed whereas citizenship can be changed because one person can take citizenship of another country.
  4. A person can have the nationality of only one country while a person can become a citizen of more than one country.
  5. Nationality cannot be taken away while citizenship can be taken away.

Therefore, it can be concluded from the above points that nationality is associated with any person for the whole life but citizenship can be changed at any time.

In the Indian constitution, there is a system of single citizenship, that is, the right to grant citizenship to a person here is only to the central government unlike in the United States, where is a system of dual citizenship that means where the states have the right to grant citizenship.

Apart from this, there is a provision in the Indian constitution that if an Indian citizen accepts citizenship of another country, then his Indian citizenship automatically ends.

Indian Law have some provisions for some particular ones who want to stay connected with India:-

NRI (Non-Resident of India):-  As per legal provisions of India, an NRI is a citizen of India who has temporarily migrated to abroad for several reasons like education, medical treatment, etc for some period i.e 182 days.

PIO (Person of Indian Origin) and OCI( Overseas Citizen of India):- PIO and OCI are not citizens of India. PIO scheme was launched in 2002 and the OCI scheme was launched in 2005 by the Indian government. In 2015, the PIO scheme was merged with the OCI cardholders scheme. These schemes can be abolished at any time by the government of India.


Citizens of all countries except Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, China, Nepal, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka are eligible for PIO cardholding while OCI card is available to citizens of all countries except Pakistan and Bangladesh.

PIO cardholder can visit India without a visa for 15 years from the date of the issue of PIO card while OCI can visit India without a visa for any time for all his/her life.

PIO can be granted Indian citizenship if one resides in India for a minimum of 7 years while an OCI can get citizenship after 5 years from the date of registration but before applying for citizenship, he must have dwelt in India for one year.

these NRIs, PIOs, and OCIs are those who sent high remittances to India from abroad which led to economic growth and India have been ranked as the topmost country in the context of receiving of remittances.

Citizenship Amendment Act(CAA) 2019  –

The law extends citizenship to the people belonging to the communities of Hinduism, Christianity, Buddhism, Jainism, Sikhism, and Parsi. These are the immigrants who have entered India illegally, that is without a visa( included expired visa) on or before December 31, 2014, from the Islamic countries of Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh and have stayed in the country for 5 years, are eligible to apply for Indian citizenship.

The law does not violate any of the constitutional provisions as the Indian Constitution authorizes the Parliament to make law on citizenship and to decide conditions for citizenship.

National Population Register (NPR):-

The NPR is a database that will consist of demographic data and biometric data of residents of the country.

The Citizenship Act,1948  provides that there will a census every 10 years. NPR gets its legal backing from The Citizenship Amendment Act,1955.

The citizenship Amendment Act,1955 under section 14(A), allows central govt to prepare NPR  and allow to issue of a national identity card to its citizens and it also allows GOI to maintain a National Register of Indian Citizens (NRIC).

National Register of Indian Citizens (NRIC):-

NPR  is the first step towards NRIC or NRIC can be said as a subset of NPR.

NRIC is the register of Indian citizens which will recognize illegal residents of India.

Currently, India is witnessing many of the protests all over India against CAA, NRIC, and NPR. Questions have been raised by protesters that these steps are against the true spirit of the Indian constitution. But a thorough study of constitutional and legal provisions unveils that it is constitutional. And it will not snatch  any of the natural rights and privileges from Indian citizens. But govt need to clarify the issues and careful implementation is required by keeping the exceptional conditions in mind during verification so that none of the Indians have to face the burden of proving his citizenship.

You can also read this –

Global impact of Indian protest against CAA and NRC

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