Indian or Canadian? Understanding India’s law on citizenship, in light of Bollywood Star Akshay Kumar’s citizenship row


It has been rightly said that citizenship is the chance to make a difference to the place where you belong. Being citizen of a country entitles an individual to several privileges and rights, which she/he can exercise to contribute to the nation’s building. For instance, in India only citizens have freedom of speech and expression and protection against discrimination, as a fundamental right. Similarly, only a citizen is allowed to run for a public office. However, in addition to the privileges, it is a sense of belongingness that makes citizenship such a personal aspect for an individual. An individual resonates with the idea and vision of the country, she/he is a citizen of.

In India, citizenship of celebrities and politicians has always been a burning issue. On the political front the Gandhi family has been at the receiving end of questions on their citizenship, whereas from the entertainment industry, Bollywood Star Akshay Kumar has been questioned time and again regarding his citizenship status. While the Gandhi family has come out victorious against all challenges on their citizenship, the same cannot be said about the Bollywood star. In the present post, I aim to put to rest the question whether Akshay Kumar is a Citizen of India, as per the Indian law.

I shall begin the post, by first discussing the law on citizenship in India i.e. who can be a citizen of India, how can a citizenship be acquired and terminated respectively. This shall be followed up by analyzing the citizenship row over Mr. Akshay Kumar. It should be noted that Mr. Kumar has made several contradictory claims about his citizenship status. For instance, at one press conference he claimed having a dual citizenship, whereas in the other he claimed to have an honorary citizenship from Canada. Recently, the star has admitted to having a Canadian citizenship. I shall be analyzing the legality of all the above claims in the present post.

1. Law on Citizenship in India-

At the outset, I wish to clarify that the terms ‘citizenship’ and ‘nationality’ are not synonyms and should not be used interchangeably. Citizenship is a concept of the domestic/municipal law of a country and determines the rights and duties an individual has. Nationality on the other hand is an international law concept and concerns a natural or artificial person, for example a company or corporation. For instance, a company registered in India and owned by a Swiss businessman, shall have Indian nationality, but it will not be considered a citizen of India. Therefore, every citizen has her/his country’s nationality but the vice versa is not true [State Trading Corporation v. Commercial Tax Officer, AIR 1963 SC 1811].

The law on citizenship in India is provided under the Constitution of India (Part II), the Citizenship Act, 1955 (as amended in 1986) and the Citizenship Rules.

A. How does one acquire Indian Citizenship?

An individual can acquire any Indian citizenship by four ways i.e. by birth, by descent, by registration and by naturalization. Each one of them is explained below.

Citizenship by Birth (§ 3):
Everyone person who is born in India, and either of whose parent is a citizen of India at the time of her/his birth and is not an illegal migrant, automatically becomes a citizen of India by birth.

Citizenship by Descent (§ 4):
An individual, who is born outside India and either of whose parent is a citizen of India at the time of her/his birth, shall be a citizen of India by descent. The only requirement is that her/his birth should be registered with the Indian consulate within 1 year of occurrence, along with a declaration that the minor does not hold a passport of any other country.

Citizenship by Registration (§ 5):
An individual not born in India or neither of whose parent is a citizen of India can apply for the citizenship by registration. For such an application, the individual should fall in either of the following category:

  • She/he is a person of Indian origin and is an ordinary resident in India for a period of 7 years immediately preceding her/his application.
  • She/he is a person of Indian origin and is an ordinary resident in any country or place outside undivided India.
  • She/he is married to a citizen of India and is an ordinary resident in India for a period of 7 years immediately preceding her/his application.
  • She/he is a minor child of persons who are citizens of India.
  • She/he is a person who has been registered as an overseas citizen of India for five years and has been residing in India for one year before making the application.

In addition to the above, the applicant has to take an oath of allegiance. Ordinarily, a person who has renounced his Indian citizenship before or whose citizenship has been terminated by the Indian government, cannot apply for citizenship by registration. However, the central government may exempt any of the above requirements, for reasons recorded in writing.

Politician Sonia Gandhi (formerly known as Ms. Antonia Maino) acquired the Indian Citizen through registration. She was a former citizen of Italy and married an Indian citizen Shri Rajiv Gandhi. Her citizenship received the Court’s approval in Rakesh Singh v. Sonia Gandhi (Allahabad High Court). Similarly, Bollywood actor Deepika Padukone has also obtained her Indian citizenship through registration. Born in Denmark, the actor was granted citizenship by registration, as she was a child of persons who are citizens of India.

Citizenship by Naturalization (§ 6):
Individuals, who are neither born in India, not related to Indian citizens by blood or by soil or are not married to Indian citizens, can apply for Indian citizenship through naturalization. An applicant seeking citizenship by naturalization has to conform to the following qualifications:

  • She/he is not a citizen of a country where citizens of India are prevented by law or practice, from becoming citizens of that country by naturalization.

[For instance, if country A prohibits Indian citizens from becoming its citizens by naturalization, citizens of country A also cannot seek a citizenship by naturalization in India.]

  • She/he undertakes to renounce (give up) the citizenship of her/his country in the event of his application being accepted.
  • She/he has resided in India or been in the service of the government of India throughout the period of twelve months preceding his application.
  • She/he has resided in India or been in the service of the government of India for 14 years preceding the above twelve months from the date of her/his application.
  • She/he is of good character.
  • She/he has an adequate knowledge of a language specified in the Eighth Schedule to the Constitution.

The central government has the power to waive of all the above qualifications for an individual who in its opinion has rendered distinguished service to the cause of science, philosophy, art, literature, world peace or human progress.

Bollywood singer Adnan Sami and Dalai Lama were granted an Indian citizenship by the Government of India through naturalization.

Although registration and naturalization appear similar, the two processes are very different. Registration as a category has a better chance of grant of citizenship by either marriage to an Indian citizen or by having ancestors who are citizens of India. Naturalization on the other hand, covers individuals who are not married to Indian citizens and not related to Indian citizens by blood or soil, but have done distinguished services to the cause of science, philosophy, art, literature and world peace of human progress etc. or having long stay in India. Usually, citizenship by registration is granted faster than citizenship by naturalisation.

An individual has a right to grant of citizenship by registration if she/he fulfils the conditions, whereas one has no right to grant of citizenship by naturalisation, as it is granted on the pleasure of the government [Rakesh Singh v. Sonia Gandhi, 2011 SCC Online All 266].

An application for citizenship has to be submitted to the Collector, within whose jurisdiction the applicant is ordinarily resident. Once the application is received, it is forwarded to the state government to check whether the application satisfies the requirements under law and is of good character i.e. fit to be registered or naturalized as a citizen of India. The state government then forwards the application to the Central Government, which assess whether the state government scrutinized the application as per law and whether the applicant is of good character. On successful scrutiny, the applicant is issued a certificate of citizenship.

B. How does one cease to be a Citizen of India?

An Indian citizen can lose her/his citizenship in three ways i.e. by renunciation, by termination and by deprivation. These concepts are explained below:

By Renunciation (§ 8):
A person may renounce their Indian citizenship, by submitting a declaration to that effect to the prescribed authority. On registration, the individual and her/his minor child shall cease to be citizens of India as well. The minor child on attaining majority, has the option of resuming the Indian citizenship by submitting an application to the concerned authority, within a year of attaining majority.

By Termination (§ 9):
Indian law does not recognize dual citizenship and therefore, an individual ceases to be an Indian citizen, once she/he acquires citizenship of another country. This point has been reiterated by the Courts on numerous occasions.

Dual Citizenship should not be confused with an Overseas citizen, a concept introduced in 2005. An overseas citizen is a person of Indian origin, who was an Indian citizen but acquired a foreign citizenship later. An overseas citizen should not be confused with a citizen of India, as they only have ease of visas and certain economic, financial and educational benefits. They do not enjoy the rights and privileges which an Indian citizen does.

By Deprivation (§ 10):
The Central government may by an order deprive an individual who acquired her/his citizenship by registration or naturalization, if the following conditions are attracted:

  • Registration or Certificate of Naturalization was obtained by means of fraud, misrepresentation or concealment.
  • She/he has shown himself to be disloyal or disaffectionate towards the Constitution of India.
  • She/he communicated with enemy during war.
  • She/he has been sentenced to life imprisonment in a country, within five years of obtaining the citizenship of India.
  • She/he has been an ordinary resident outside India for a continuous period of 7 years (unless the purpose of residence was academic or government service).

Ordinarily a person should not be deprived of their citizenship; however, the government may do so if it is conducive to public good. An individual so deprived has the right to a fair hearing.

2. Akshay Kumar’s citizenship row-

Akshay Kumar has been riding high on the patriotism wave through his movies, making his own citizenship status a talk of the town, more than any other celebrity. The actor has given different answers to the questions of his citizenship. At one instance, he has claimed to have a dual citizenship, while on the other he has claimed to hold an honorary citizenship of Canada. Both these claims are false.

First, as discussed before, India does not recognize the concept of dual citizenship and an individual ceases to be an Indian citizen, on acquiring a foreign citizenship. Therefore, Akshay ceased to be an Indian citizen, once he acquired the Canadian citizenship.

Second, the concept of honorary citizenship does not exist in India. To confirm my claim, I filed an RTI with the Ministry of Home Affairs, which verified that there is no provision for an honorary citizenship under the Indian law. Further, only six individuals have been awarded an honorary citizenship by Canada and Akshay is not one of them. Therefore, as per law Akshay had ceased to be an Indian citizen long ago, if any of his statements are to be believed.


Concluding Remarks:

Two months ago, Akshay Kumar came out clean and admitted to having a Canadian passport, finally putting the issue to rest. While no one has the right to judge him for his decision on the citizenship, the incorrect answers and the evasion by the actor was what troubled many.

Citizenship of a country is an individual’s personal choice and one should not pass any judgment on the same. However, when an actor becomes the benchmark of patriotism for a nation, questions are bound to arise. The audience wonders why the man, who interviews our Prime Minister on national television before the elections, swears his allegiance to her Majesty Queen Elizabeth/laws of Canada and not the Constitution of India.

4 thoughts on “Indian or Canadian? Understanding India’s law on citizenship, in light of Bollywood Star Akshay Kumar’s citizenship row

Add yours

  1. I enjoy your style of writing. It is clear, precise and thoroughly informative at the same time. I also really appreciate the choice of issues that you choose to deal with.


      1. Hi Swapnil , that was a comprehensive write up on citizenship clause under the Indian legal perspective, yet I am quite not sure about one fact which you have added in your article and I will be happy if we could first discuss this in personal mails. Great work in total.


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