Who am I? I thought I knew – ‘an elderly woman with short greying hair and wearing spectacles’ who looks back at me in the mirror!. But I am not so sure anymore! I am one of many me-s in my various ‘photo-ID’s – although my driving license (which I have lost) was without a photo, the me in the passport, PAN card, voter card, aadhaar card, bank pass book are all different me-s, depending on when it was made.
When I moved to Lucknow in 1987, the local branch of SBI within our campus helped me to transfer my account from Mumbai. It was slow and through slow mail, but fairly painless. I renewed my BRADMA (a system of embossing letters on plastic, which younger people will not recognize) made driving license with the local RTO. The passport, possessed by a privileged few, always had a photograph and I got the first ‘photo ID’ in the mid-90s, when there was a failed attempt to create a Voter ID system. It was some years later that banks made photos a mandatory part of the bank account opening forms – and asked us older account holders to submit photos for the passbook.
I really don’t remember what was the ‘painfulness’ level when I got my first phone – the address proof issue was not so rigid, I think. And for 22 years VA/1, SGPGI CAmpus Quarters was where I was. My first taste of the demands of modern citizenship was when I moved to Gurgaon 5 years ago. Even before I moved, I had been sensitized to the needs of address proof, so I did get my official address in the SBI account in Lucknow changed to the new Gurgaon one. But I failed to get a fresh pass book created with a photo, so it could not serve as photo ID. I had to start from scratch – fortunately HDFC bank accepted my house ownership papers as address proof. But, Airtel would not accept that or my HDFC account statement for the same purpose and would only take a sarkari bank documents. Fortunately, at the apartment complex where I lived, each flat had Dakshin Haryana Bijli Vitran Nigam connection and Airtel happily accepted the scarppy, faintly printed out, ‘sanctified’ sarkari scrap of a bill as address proof. I was still short of a photo-ID – but now I was becoming wise. I transferred my SBI PPF account from Lucknow to a local branch and insisted on a photo (not required by the bank) on the front page of the pass book next to the address. S0, lo and behold, I acquired an address proofed, photo-ID. In 2010, my passport was up for renewal and with the address trail I had created, I could get a new passport with the new address.
But then I screwed it all up, by changing my flat in 2012 – and my first response after the transaction was ‘How do I create address proof?” I had to use the new ownership papers to get the address changed on my SBI passbook while my passport valid for 10 years, was stuck with the earlier address. Then I lost my wallet which had my PAN card – carried as photo-ID for the airport security. I could get a a new PAN card with an online application and lo and behold I had another photo-ID. And then there came the Aadhaar card (valid in some places not at others), and now I also have a permanent voter card.
So my citizenship is empowered by these many proofs of residence and identity. My daily helper, Rohima from West Bengal, also feels empowered by her voter ID card. But hers is a different story – my apartment complex, like all others in Gurgaon, needs her to have a pass for admission which requires registration with the Police. So a few weeks ago, I took her to the local police station to get this done. There is a full fledged cell at the thana for this activity and it involves, submission of a form (with details of her home address in West Bengal with names of 2 persons who would identify her and her local address with names of 2 persons who would identify her), entry into a register and submission of photocopies of the form and voter card. For this illiterate woman, this involves payment of Rs 100 to the local ‘writer’ (a semi-literate guy, from the way the form was filled) who filled her form, cost of transport to the police station, and Rs 200/ at the thana to someone who would have performed my role – that of filling the register and signing as employer. And this registration is valid only for 6 months. On trying to understand the system more, I learnt that a permanent registration is only given if the local police contacts her local thana in West Bengal who then contact her listed contacts and confirm her ID. I don’t think the police force gets around to doing this, even for the suspected crooks – or that they have the manpower and logistic support for such an activity. So, Rohima will continue her 6 monthly trek to the thana and spend the Rs 300+….but she is luckier than many who do not have a photo-ID.
All this came to mind when I was asked for address proof for my mother. She has lived in Chennai in her own apartment for over 20 years, after my father’s death in 1992. Independent and feisty, she has led an active life with her own circle of friends, and my brother, who lived not too far away from her, to provide logistic support. And then, three years ago, just past her 80th birthday, she fell, broke her hip and had replacement surgery. Although she pushed herself to get back on her feet, things were not the same any more. With the passing of time it became increasingly difficult to manage the daily routine and so she moved to Gurgaon to live with me more than a year ago. Since my father worked in the Central Government, she is entitled to free medical services through the CGHS. She has not availed it much as she has not had any major health issues. However, I thought it would be a good idea to get her card transferred to Gurgaon, in case of any future needs. And, after completing most of the formalities, when it came to allotting the dispensary and issuing the card, there came the request “Address proof, please?” Now, how do I create one for her??
So, while we are all citizens of this country, guaranteed equality under the constitution, some of us are more privileged than others – a kind of privilege that I do realize, is the end result of numerous inevitable changes in the eco-system – but still a privilege, and one I don’t feel so privileged about!!