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Who is a citizen of India, who decides who is not?

by Jawed Naqvi, 11 March 2010

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March 8, 2010

by Jawed Naqvi

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 scanner.

Much like the loose idiom that thus defines a foreigner vis-Ã -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 citizens.”

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” among Muslims.

In the big picture there are even more glaring differences in the way Kashmiris see themselves vis-Ã -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 begaanas.


The above article from Dawn is reproduced here for educational purposes and is for non commercial use