Citizenship Act : Comparing India & Pakistan

Published: December 19, 2019

India’s new Citizenship Amendment Act provides for Indian citizenship to religious minorities of 3 neighbouring countries (Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Pakistan). In this context let us look at the constitutional and legal provisions for citizenship and rights of religious minorities in Pakistan.

Difference in Preamble

The preamble of the Indian Constitution declares the country as a “sovereign, socialist, secular, democratic republic”, with the terms “socialist” and “secular” being added by the 42nd Amendment, 1976.
On the other hand, Pakistan’s Constitution starts with “In the name of Allah, the most beneficent, the merciful”.
Its constitution acknowledges God’s sovereignty in respect of the universe, and contains references to Muslims and Islam. When this provision was moved by Liaquat Ali Khan in 1949, the non-muslim members of the Constituent Assembly opposed it.

Citizens according to Pakistan

Although it is an Islamic state, Pakistan does not have any religious test for citizenship. The country’s Citizenship act of 1951 is similar to India’s and in certain aspects may be seen more liberal.
Section 6 of the act lays down that a person who migrated to Pakistan before January 1, 1952 is a citizen. Section 3 provides citizenship on the commencement of the Act which is April 13, 195, to anyone who, or whose parents or grandparents, were born in the territories included in Pakistan on March 31, 1973. It grants citizenship to any person who migrated there from any territory in the subcontinent with the intention of permanently residing there before April 13, 1951. India’s cutoff date is July 19, 1948 leaving Assam where it is March 25, 1971.

Section 4 in Pakistan’s act law lays provisons that every person born in Pakistan after the commencement of the Act will be a Pakistan citizen by birth. Comparing with India, the country has added restrictive qualifications in 1986 (where one parents should be an Indian citizen) , in 2003 (where both parents should be Indian citizens or one a citizen and other not an illegal migrant).

Freedom of Religion

The Constitution provides for the rights for minorities in the preamble itself. It mentions adequate provisions for minorities to practice freedom of religion and develop their culture. It notes that adequate provision shall be made to protect legitimate interests of minorities, however the expression in respect of minorities is restrictive. Pakistan gives the right to freedom of religion only to citizens whereas in India, it includes foreigners as well. Unlike in India, the freedom of press in Pakistan is subject to glory of Islam. It is due to this restriction Pakistan has a blasphemy law with a death penalty. This raises concerns about Pakistan’s commitment to free speech.

Steps to protect minorities in Pakistan

Article 36 of the Constitution states the country shall letdown safeguards for the protection of rights of minorities. As religious minorities face discrimination, the Constitution provide them with reservation. There are also personal laws for religious minorities in Pakistan but there is a provision of them being struck down if they are inconsistent with the state religion. However, Article 227(3) exempts personal law of minorities from this provision.
While in India, any provision of personal law that is inconsistent with the Constitution is declared null and void. Thus the practice of triple talakh was declared invalid in 2017.

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