Article 5 of the Indian Constitution: Citizenship at the Commencement of the Constitution

Article 5 of the Indian Constitution: Citizenship at the Commencement of the Constitution
Posted on 09-07-2023

Article 5 of the Indian Constitution: Citizenship at the Commencement of the Constitution

Article 5 of the Indian Constitution deals with the criteria for citizenship in India. In this essay, I will provide a comprehensive explanation of Article 5, discussing its provisions, historical background, interpretation, and significance in shaping the Indian citizenship framework.



Article 5 is an essential provision of the Indian Constitution, as it lays down the fundamental principles for acquiring and determining citizenship in the country. The article, along with subsequent amendments and legislation, has undergone several changes over the years to reflect the evolving nature of Indian citizenship. To fully understand Article 5, it is necessary to examine its historical context and subsequent developments.


Historical Background:

The concept of citizenship in India has evolved over centuries, shaped by various political, social, and legal factors. During British colonial rule, India was subject to different legal frameworks that determined citizenship based on factors such as race, birth, and domicile. These laws created distinctions between Indian citizens and British subjects, leading to a fragmented citizenship landscape.

After India gained independence in 1947, the Constituent Assembly was tasked with drafting a new constitution that would define the principles and rights of Indian citizens. The objective was to create an inclusive and egalitarian citizenship framework that would transcend the divisions of the colonial era.


Provisions of Article 5:

Article 5 of the Indian Constitution is succinctly worded and states: "At the commencement of this Constitution, every person who has his domicile in the territory of India and who was born in the territory of India or either of whose parents was born in the territory of India, or who has been ordinarily resident in the territory of India for not less than five years immediately preceding such commencement, shall be a citizen of India."

The provision outlines three primary criteria for acquiring Indian citizenship: domicile, birth, and ordinary residence. Let us examine each criterion in detail:

  1. Domicile: The first condition for acquiring Indian citizenship under Article 5 is having a domicile in the territory of India. Domicile refers to a person's permanent residence or the place where they have their permanent home. This criterion implies a sense of permanence and a connection to the territory of India.

  2. Birth: The second condition is birth in the territory of India. This principle of birthright citizenship, also known as jus soli, confers citizenship to individuals based on their place of birth. It ensures that anyone born in Indian territory is automatically considered an Indian citizen, regardless of their parents' citizenship.

  3. Parentage: The third condition pertains to the citizenship status of one's parents. It states that a person can acquire Indian citizenship if either of their parents was born in the territory of India. This provision recognizes the concept of jus sanguinis, which determines citizenship based on the nationality or citizenship of one's parents.

  4. Ordinary Residence: The fourth condition requires a person to have been ordinarily resident in the territory of India for at least five years immediately preceding the commencement of the Constitution. This criterion seeks to ensure a stronger connection between the individual and the country by demonstrating a period of extended residence.


Interpretation and Significance:

The interpretation and significance of Article 5 have evolved through judicial pronouncements, constitutional amendments, and subsequent legislation. The Supreme Court of India has played a crucial role in interpreting and clarifying the provisions of Article 5 in various cases.

One landmark case that shaped the interpretation of Article 5 is the R.C. Cooper v. Union of India (1970) case. The Supreme Court held that a person born in India after the commencement of the Constitution is automatically considered a citizen by birth, irrespective of the nationality or citizenship of their parents. This decision solidified the principle of birthright citizenship enshrined in Article 5.

Over the years, various amendments and legislation have expanded and modified the provisions of Article 5. The Citizenship Act of 1955, as amended, provides detailed guidelines and procedures for acquiring, registering, and renouncing Indian citizenship. It introduced additional categories such as citizenship by descent, citizenship by naturalization, and citizenship by registration, further supplementing the provisions of Article 5.

Another significant development in the interpretation of Article 5 is the National Register of Citizens (NRC). The NRC is an exercise to create a comprehensive list of Indian citizens residing in Assam, a northeastern state of India. The process involves verifying the citizenship status of individuals based on documentary evidence and establishing a cutoff date for determining eligibility.

The NRC exercise, although limited to Assam, has generated significant debates and controversies concerning citizenship and identity in India. The complex nature of determining citizenship, particularly for individuals who may not possess adequate documentary proof, has posed challenges and sparked discussions on inclusivity, justice, and the rights of marginalized communities.



Article 5 of the Indian Constitution lays down the foundation for citizenship in India, outlining the criteria for acquiring Indian citizenship. The provision reflects the principles of domicile, birth, parentage, and ordinary residence. It has evolved over time through judicial interpretation, constitutional amendments, and legislation to address the complexities and challenges associated with citizenship.

The significance of Article 5 lies in its role in shaping the Indian citizenship framework and defining the rights and privileges of Indian citizens. It embodies the principles of inclusivity, equality, and the right to belong, while also acknowledging the diverse historical and social contexts that have influenced Indian citizenship.

As India continues to evolve and grapple with contemporary issues related to citizenship, Article 5 will remain a fundamental pillar of the Indian Constitution, guiding the country in its pursuit of a just and inclusive citizenship framework.

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