The idea of citizenship originated gradually as a result of the wide-spread rise of cities in the wake of the development of trade and maritime ports and centralized markets. The condition of agricultural labourers in feudal society was no better than that of serfs and sudras. Cities needed a large population of wage earners and, in order to attract the agricultural labourers, they had to be tempted by the grant of certain rights, the principal of which was freedom. “City air makes people free”— was the attractive slogan.
For freedom was the one thing that the tillers of the soil need and the guarantee of this led many to run away from their landlord masters and seek refuge from the stern laws relating to land.
In ancient Greek and Roman cities, the population was divided into free men who had all rights and privileges and slaves who had none. Hence, whether in the mediaeval Free Cities or in the ancient City States of Greece and Rome, citizenship came to be regarded as a valued privileges, for it bestowed a certain status, which was a matter of pride to the citizen.
Of course, this status was valued because it was associated with the enjoyment of certain rights. It assured to an individual in a State the right to protection from any attack on life or on property. This right might be said to have an extra-territorial application, for even in a foreign country, the citizen would continue to enjoy the rights and its arms would be extended for his protection.
A Roman Citizen, wherever he might be, used to feel this. ‘Civic Romanus sum—I am a Roman citizen’—was the proud feeling entertained by every Roman, wherever he might be. Provided one acts rightly, one can claim the help and protection of his State even in a foreign country.
Within the State, a citizen has not only the right to life, but to liberty as well, including freedom of expression. One has freedom of movement, freedom to carry on lawful business, and follow avocations, freedom of speech and freedom of forming associations with others for political and cultural ends. It is true that these rights are often curtailed in many ways.
In the former Soviet Union, no citizen had the right to speak or act against the principle of Communism. In the United States, there is a similar ban on those who would advocate the ideals of Communism. No state can allow a citizen to act in a way that jeopardises the very existence of the State as such. The right to oppose, to agitate and organize peacefully is a fundamental right in a democracy ; to agitate and strike on just economic grievances, the right to voice a popular sentiment against a harsh measure of the Government, are all recognised.
Citizenship appertains principally to a democratic state. Therefore a basic right is that of equality of all citizens—equality in the eye of law, equality in the exercise of franchise and equality in the enjoyment of fundamental rights. In non-capitalistic states, it is possible for party men to enjoy a higher status than non-party men.
In a progressive State, a Citizen has the right to free education for his children, free medical help for his family, and pension, if he should be superannuated or incapacitated for work.
A Citizen has the right to enjoy property or carry on business; his slogan is—no taxation without representation. He has a duty of contributing to the maintenance of his State. He must be ready to pay the tax due from him under the constitution and to defend his country, whatever might be the amount of this tax. He can only claim that he should be taxed by his representatives. Thus, the right of voters to elect the suitable candidates is among the basic rights of citizens of a modern state.
In case the existence of the State is threatened or endangered, a citizen has the duty of protecting the State by all kinds of services including military service. The State thus has acquired the right to use conscription, i.e. drafting services of citizens compulsively in the interest of its defence and no loyal citizen has the right to claim exemption from such service.
However, absolute right like absolute liberty is an abstraction which exists only in the fancy of Utopians. Every right or duty is counter-balanced, and to that extent, limited by certain well-defined and well-accepted duties to the State which confers and guarantees those rights. Thus, rights and duties are co-related.
Thus, every citizen must be loyal and obedient to the State. This is an inherent proposition of citizenship. Subversive activities against the well-being or safety of the State must entail severe punishment. A disloyal citizen who professes extra-territorial loyalties can claim no immunity or protection.
The rights and duties of a citizen are thus, by nature, reciprocal. The citizens assume the duties voluntarily in order to enjoy the rights freely. Burke put the whole matter admirably when he said, “All government is founded on compromise and barter. We balance inconveniences, we give and take; we remit some rights so that we may enjoy others.”