Who is a citizen of India, who decides who is not?
- From: PakistanPal <pakistanpal@xxxxxxxxx>
- Date: Mon, 8 Mar 2010 21:45:36 -0800 (PST)
Citizenship is a modern concept and a self-limiting notion. A detailed
survey of a mix of Indian citizens, including Kashmiris, published by
the Economic and Political Weekly (EPW) in its latest edition gives
the discussion a more meaningful and complex character than it is
traditionally granted. But before we take a look at its findings, it
would be useful to bear in mind that references to a foreigner or a
"pardesi" in popular idiom - such as folk songs and traditional poetry
- are at variance with the issue of citizenship the survey puts under
The EPW survey on how Indians see or don't see themselves as citizens
of their country throws up some unexpected results. - Photo by AFP
Much like the loose idiom that thus defines a foreigner vis-à-vis a
native, Allama Iqbal too was responsible for causing confusion about
the idea of India - which he called Hindustan - and about those
inhabiting what he declaimed was a fabled region. After declaring in a
popular eulogy that Hindustan was the best nation (or country or
territory, he doesn't define it) he simultaneously supported nascent
Muslim separatism, which many Pakistanis see as an early endorsement
of their nationhood.
"Pardesi" or its Persianised variant "Begaana", which also refers to a
stranger, forms the spine of popular romance across the Hindi/Urdu
belt though by today's standards the foreigner of yore would usually
have belonged to a nearby village or precincts of a different but
neighbouring principality. "Balam pardesi" or beloved foreigner could
thus be referring to a neighbour by today's perceptions of what
constitutes a foreigner. I have been perplexed since as long as I can
remember, however, as to why an Indian's national sentiment, which
comes with Indian citizenship, should require him to feel a greater
bonding with a Naga from Nagaland, for example, but not with a Nepali
whose language Indians understand better.
A popular word used by many Indians working in the Gulf states in the
1980s was "muluk". And when they said they were off to their
"muluk" (distinct from the more refined mulk) for a holiday, they
usually meant a village or a qasbah though sometimes also a city or a
town, but it seldom conveyed the sense of a country as the word is
generally thought to mean.
The EPW survey on how Indians see or don't see themselves as citizens
of their country throws up some unexpected results. The number of
Kashmiris who do not consider themselves as Indians is relatively
higher than other regional groups except those from the far eastern
Tripura state. However, in absolute terms a majority of Kashmiris
still acknowledge their Indian citizenship. Similarly, the average of
Indian Muslims who accept the parameters of citizenship is lower by
four percentage points than the national average of 89 per cent.
A representative sample of 8,000 men and women were interviewed in
their own languages by specially trained investigators. The
respondents were asked in a neutral manner questions such as - "Some
people think of themselves as Indian citizens, while some others do
not think of themselves as citizens of India. Talking about yourself,
do you consider yourself a citizen of India?"
Who then are the 89 per cent who claim the status of citizens and who
are the non-citizens? Says Subrata Mitra who analysed the data for
EPW: "In terms of their self-perception, citizens as well as non-
citizens do not have any distinct social profile. The higher educated
tend to have a slightly greater tendency to see themselves as
Those surveyed were asked simple questions. For example did they agree
or not that all citizens enjoyed equal rights. Only 44.7 per cent said
they did. More than 11 per cent completely disagreed. Were people free
to speak their minds without fear? About 39 per cent said they did and
13 per cent totally disagreed. Did people have the power to change the
government they did not like? More than 45 per cent felt they did
nearly 17 per cent disagreed. Most citizens had basic necessities like
food, clothing shelter? As many as 33.4 per cent affirmed it while
12.6 per cent said it was not true.
In the survey, in terms of social characteristics, Mitra sees no clear
social profile that would radically distinguish the self-perception as
citizens from that of non-citizens. State averages showed a distinct
swing though. "Clearly, context matters, for in Jammu and Kashmir, at
19.6 per cent, the average of non-citizens is almost three times that
of the national average. In Tripura, it climbs even higher, reaching
an astounding 27 per cent."
The peculiar situation of Jammu and Kashmir marked a deviation from
the national average in other ways. "First of all, let this be clear
that 69 per cent of people interviewed in Jammu and Kashmir think of
themselves as Indian citizens," says Mitra. "Even among Muslims the
percentage is 59 per cent. There is no clear relationship with
education; and contrary to the national trend, urban residents are
less inclined to count themselves as citizens."
Mitra says that the national trend of a positive relationship with
class does not hold in Kashmir, "with the rich and the very poor
pulling level with regard to the probability of counting themselves as
citizens of India."
Within the framework of the findings, "the split between Jammu and the
Kashmir Valley carries the shadow of the separatist movement". In
other words 83 per cent of the residents of Jammu count themselves as
citizens of India compared to 53 per cent for the Kashmir Valley."
In Jammu and Kashmir, according to Mitra, men perform better than
women when it comes to the strength of citizenship. However, the rural
respondents perform better than their urban counterparts. The upper
castes of Jammu and Kashmir (most of them from Jammu region) perform
better whereas the proportion of low citizenship is "alarmingly high"
In the big picture there are even more glaring differences in the way
Kashmiris see themselves vis-à-vis India and how others approach the
issue. The same scale that shows 43.6 per cent of the national sample
to be in the category of 'high' citizenship reveals that in Jammu and
Kashmir, only 20.2 per cent are at the highest level of citizenship.
The survey looks at a comparative data between Kashmiri Muslims and
Muslims from the rest of India. "Strong citizenship among educated
Muslims outside Jammu and Kashmir reaches 59.4 per cent, compared with
to 54.2 per cent for all Indians with a comparable level of education.
Equally surprising is the effect of age: young Muslims (up to 25
years) outside Jammu and Kashmir contain 52.3 per cent strong citizens
compared to 44.6 per cent for Indians as a whole."
It sounds like an interesting survey and probably needs to be followed
up more scrupulously. Would it however make much difference to the way
Muslims - Kashmiris and non-Kashmiris - are perceived in the paradigm
of them and us. Or as the songs described the pardesis and the
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