The letters from Portugal that have been dropping into the mail boxes or are being pushed under the doors of the people who have obtained the Portuguese bilhete de identidade or the cartao de cidadao have a curious and contentious message. Curious, because it throws up a new point to the debate of who is a Portuguese citizen – only one who has obtained a passport or also one who has registered his birth there and got a Portuguese identity card which is called the bilhete de identidade or the cartao de cidadao. Contentious because it now becomes apparent that Goa cannot view only those people who have obtained a Portuguese passport as holding dual citizenship, but must include the others too.
If a Goan who has registered his birth in Portugal and got a bilhete de identidade or a cartao de cidadao can enroll and vote in the Portuguese elections, doesn’t it mean that he is a Portuguese citizen? A country does not give voting rights to people who are not its citizens. There is a line in the letter stating that the information about the ‘citizens living abroad’ will automatically be added to the census and the voters register along with the information submitted during application for the bilhete de identidade. It is quite clear here that Portugal considers those who have obtained the bilhete de identidade or a cartao de cidadao as its citizens. Such a document to prove one’s identity is, again, given only to its citizens.
This brings about a whole new perspective to the discussion of what constitutes obtaining Portuguese citizenship, a debate has been going on for a few years, ever since it arose in the past that even some lawmakers had registered their births in Portugal. It follows that Portuguese nationality is determined at the moment of transcribing one’s birth records in the Portuguese civil registry, obtaining an identity card is just a corollary of that action. The confusion over whether it is the Portuguese passport or the BI that determines one’s Portuguese nationality therefore does not come into play and should end here. If it does not end, then it will be merely keeping up the discussion for political motives.
Though the government has attempted to steer clear of this in the past, this is not a new argument, but one that has been proffered at various time in the past too. Miguel Reis, a Portuguese lawyer and former journalist in the book ‘Portuguese Citizenship of Persons Born in the Erstwhile ‘Estado da India’ and of their Descendants’ writes, “The proof of the Portuguese nationality of persons born in the Portuguese territory or under the Portuguese administration is made, as mentioned earlier, by means of the settled record of birth (assento), thus being held as offspring of Portuguese citizen the persons whose record of birth does not show foreign nationality of their progenitors.” This is quite a definite statement that is backed by pages of arguments explaining and defending it, besides he making various more assertions to this fact.
The question is how is Goa going to react to this? For long the State has brushed aside the fact that the bilhete de identidade did not constitute Portuguese citizenship, and argued that it was only the passport that did. Will that now change? There are many Goans, senior citizens especially, who have obtained Portuguese citizenship only so that the second generation – their progeny born after December 19, 1961 – could fulfill the dream of going and working abroad – in Europe, Britain particularly. A large section of these senior citizens living in Goa are unaware of the complications of having registered their births in Portugal. This is a complex issue, with no easy or fast solutions. But before finding a solution, there has to first be acceptance of the fact that registration of one’s birth in Portugal and holding the bilhete de identidade constitutes acceptance of Portuguese citizenship. Given that the number of Goans who may have registered their birth in Portugal is alleged to number around 40,000 the government has to decide how it will tackle this issue.
The letters from Portugal to its citizens living abroad is in preparation for the parliamentary elections that it will be holding in October next year. India will be going to the polls in the coming summer. Strangely, if Goa does not decide soon, we may have a small number of Goans eligible to vote in the elections of both countries.