Accessing Citizenship: Patterns of Civil Registration and Insurgent Conflict in India

Dhiman, A. & Harbers, I. (2023) Accessing Citizenship: Patterns of Civil Registration and Insurgent Conflict in India. Blog post on the Armed Groups and International Law blog:

Citizenship grants access to the rights enjoyed by all members of the political community of a given state. To claim these rights, citizens must be able to provide evidence of membership based on birth place and/or parentage. Yet, according to recent World Bank estimates, about 850 million people lack official documents such as birth certificates, ID cards or passports that prove their legal identity. The absence of state-recognised documents can brand individuals as non-citizens or outsiders. For millions of people, as Wendy Hunter  and a recent volume edited by Tendayi Bloom and Lindsey Kingston show, the threat to the enjoyment of citizenship rights derives not from their legal status, but from their inability to demonstrate this status. Individuals without legal identity documents often come from marginalised communities or live in zones of limited state presence. This creates a vicious cycle as vulnerable individuals are rendered even more vulnerable by their lack state-recognised documents. 

Birth certificates are key to establishing legal identity, including claims of citizenship, and proof of parentage. In a recent working paper, we examine how armed conflict affects birth registration in India.[1] UNICEF estimates that as of 2016, around 20% of children under the age of five have not been registered with Indian civil authorities, suggesting that 2.7 million children in this age group do not possess birth certificates. Unregistered children often live in poor households and belong to marginalised communities. The South Asia Terrorism Portal identifies 76 active insurgent groups in India and an average of 2100 conflict-related fatalities per year between 2000-2022. Insurgent conflict tends to be concentrated in peripheral areas or along India’s international borders, such as the Northeast of the country and in Jammu & Kashmir, and in tribal areas that have long suffered from state neglect. In our paper, we examine patterns of birth registration in these areas, and find that armed conflict increases the risk that children remain unregistered beyond factors associated with social marginalisation previously identified in the literature.