By Dr. Subhash C. Kashyap – Former Secretary General, Lok Sabha

Speaking historically, the concept of citizenship may be said have its origin in the Greek city state democracies. Citizen was a person who was a participant in the democratic process, one who had share in the government of the city-as contradistinguished from not only foreigners but also slaves and women none of whom were deemed eligible for being citizens.

In a monarchy, there is a fundamental dichotomy between the ruler and the ruled. The ruled are the subjects implying thereby a position of subordination to the kin who rules over them by divine right. In a democracy, on the other hand, the citizen is not anybody’s Subject, but he is at once both the ruler and the ruled. Citizenship, in fact, constitutes the indispensable foundational principle of democratic polity. In such an organised civil society, citizenship may be said to carry with it a combination of rights and duties, privileges and obligations among citizens inter-se as also in the relationship between the individual citizens and the state authority. Citizenship involves the individual’s full political membership in the State, his permanent allegiance to the State and the official recognition by the State of his integration into the political system

Individuals, other than citizens, residing within the territory of a State, may be subject to the authority of the State and/or owe allegiance to it, but the citizen has responsibilities, duties, rights and privileges that the non-citizens share to a much lesser degree or not at all.

Citizenship may also be viewed as the legal relationship between the individual and the State under which the individual pledges his loyalty to the State and the State and the State offers its protection to the individual. This relationship is regulated by national law and recognized by international law. It comprises (i) Civil and political rights which the citizen uses for defending the State. (ii) Duties which the citizen performs towards the State and which include promotion of public good, and (ii) The loyalty of the citizen towards the State.

Citizens be of two types viz. natural born citizens and naturalized citizens. Some-times there are terms which are used synonymously with citizen or citizenship. Thus, in international relations, the term ‘national’ is used. But in some countries, the term ‘nationals may connote all persons -including non-citizens-who live in or belong to particular state and owe allegiance to it. The state is obliged to afford protection to all its nationals while dealing with other sovereign states. Since absolute monarchies have become a thing of past, the term ‘subjects’ has also lost much of its traditional meaning and now has become a synonym of ‘citizens’ in the context of constitutional Monarchies.

In the medieval times in Europe, the application of citizenship’ was restricted to some economically privileged section of the society. There was no concept of was reciprocal rights and duties. In certain cities especially in Germany, citizenship was viewed as shield for some economically dominant sections of the society against the claim and demands of feudal overlords. Merchants relied on their status as citizens as an avenue of influence and protection in trade dealing.

The extension of the idea of citizenship to the national level- the way it is held today can be explained largely in terms of the economic importance through of the urban middleclass at the time of transition from feudalism to the national state. It was American and the French revolutions that national citizenship gained its modern significance. Just as citizenship in the medieval ages had signified freedom from feudal domination, national citizenship in countries like U.S.A. and France had symbolised the end of adult population residing boundaries of a State.  In France, distinguishing titles of addresses and different rankings among the citizens were abolished and everyone was addressed simply as a citizen.

Clearly, the role and responsibilities of the citizen in a democracy become enormous. As the state in democratic polity is the creation of citizens by affording them maximum opportunity of participating in the political system and exercising not only rights but also special responsibilities. Without them, a democratic polity will cease to function. In addition of such requirements as obedience to law and payment of taxes, which characterise all societies, democracy necessitates citizen’s active political participation and obligates the citizens to accept responsibilities for the results of governmental action.

The role of citizens in democracies of our times is indeed more vital. The simple reason behind this is that because of the size population and the complexity of legislation and administration in a modern nation-state it is not possible for citizens to congregate at a common place and make laws, rules and regulations to govern themselves as they used to do in ancient days. There has thus evolved the representative parliamentary/ presidential democracy. In either, the citizens rule over themselves through their periodically elected representatives and by means of exercising constant vigilance over them. 

Lest our representative democracy fail in moving towards its goal of the welfare of the people the citizens have to remain active. It is made meaningless by the complacent citizen who avoids participation or declines to accept responsibilities for what the government does thinking of politics in terms of “we” who are governed and “they” who govern. Of course,there have to be politicians and civil servants who accept political and professional responsibility for the conduct of the affairs of the government. But, since they are supposed to be responsive to public opinion and pressure, the ultimate responsibility is that of citizens. If the people do not appreciate this basic reality, democracy get converted into the worst forms of c Government. In this context, one might recall Napoleon’s imperialism in the France, where because of lack of spirit of responsible citizenship, democracy corrupted and finally vanished or the way democracies in Third World in the post War II period which fell for lack of responsible citizenship.

  • Source: CDS Publication- Turning over a new leaf in nation building

One thought on “Citizenship”

  1. admin says:

    Good theme !

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