Monday, February 06, 2017

It does not pay to be a citizen of India

I am a citizen of India.
Proud? Yes and no, depends on the issues under consideration. No blanket endorsement or condemnation.
A little bit of personal history is in order. I got my passport in 1975. Yes, the date matters, as passports were not for the taking then. It meant you wanted to leave the shores of India – “Pass the Port”, you get it, of course. I returned in 1991 and ever since I am very happy being in the hinterland of India, not near the shore – New Delhi, Jaipur, and now Srirangam (in Tamil Nadu, about 100 km from the seacoast). Of course, I spent a little more than one year in Mumbai, but take that as the exception to the rule. As I am far removed from beach sands, my passport has gone missing, almost.
I did not have, or have my name on, a ration card for a long time, to be precise, effectively 1971 onwards. When I returned in 1991, I did not know where I would be living, and it so happened I sort of “settled” in Delhi. Then, I jumped through hoops of fire (my parents were helpful, getting a certificate that my name does not appear on the ration card they carried; which of course was in Tamil and I had to get it translated and had to get the translation notarized) to get one, only to establish that I am an Indian citizen (my passport, though valid, carried my address in a foreign land was not very helpful, I remember) and help me get my voter identification card. I have not used that ration card but for this purpose. Fortunately, my principles do not allow me to cash in on the facilities (subsidies) my ration card entitled me to.
Here, with your permission, I would like to digress. If you read through what the passport says, you would notice it is a request from the President of India to foreign nations not to hinder the passage of the person named. Unfortunately, it does not mention anything about the troubles an Indian citizen faces in India when she moves around the nation in search of career advancement! Don’t you think it is time this is also included in the president’s request? I will come to this a little bit later. 
This was in 1992. There might have been one election I could have used that voter ID card and voted but I did not. In 1995, I shifted base to Jaipur and I never bothered to get a ration card there because that meant I have to surrender my then existing ration card in Delhi, get a proof that I have indeed surrendered it to get a new one at Jaipur. All for what? To establish my identity as an Indian citizen, living in India. At the cost of what? Making more than a few trips – the task is never done at one go in dealings with the government, you would agree – to Delhi with the fond hope that things will get done to my satisfaction. Hopes always go unrealized!
So, you wonder, I had not voted in Indian elections ever. Yes, that is true. Am I feeling bad about it? Not necessarily. Am I not shirking my civic duty? I do not think so.
Take a different perspective and you will see why I am so nonchalant about this whole elections/voting affair. Last year, for the Tamil Nadu Assembly elections, people from the major parties approached us and offered us cash to vote for their candidates. Instead of sounding holier-than-thou and preaching about corruption etc. I simply said that none in the family has a voting card. That did it. I believe I avoided adding to the corruption in the election! Also, there is this NOTA option. Much as I do not like this, if I am forced to vote that would be my choice. So, on the whole I come out positive on this scale. Not having a voter ID is blessing indisguise!
The above is not a one-off. I have been an Indian citizen all my life, but every time I move within the country I had to establish this fact, repeatedly. That is, my being an Indian citizen is location specific. My passport was still valid but not for my then current address, in Jaipur. So, I had it updated, enough chai-paani money changing hands. I was desperate because, though I do not want to recall in detail, opening a bank account was near impossible without establishing my place of residence.
If I remember correctly, there may have been two or three elections (both central and state) during my stint at Jaipur. I did not get my Voter ID and did not vote. Then, I moved to Mumbai for one year and the rigmarole was played out there too. But, I got wiser. I avoided much of the hassle by not getting any of these cards.
In these intervening years I must admit certain things got better. Transferring a gas connection much easier, though the proof-of-residence always hung over my head as my residence was leased to the company. But, that was OK, because I treated my office as my back office in this matter.
Then, I shifted back to Delhi and the whole thing started again, PAN Card. When I got one, my name was misspelt. I let the matter go unattended for a few years and only when it threatened to go ballistic did I get the mistake corrected. Mercifully it was not a long winded process.
And, I do not have a driver’s licence. I am deaf in my left ear and I cannot tell whether a noise comes from my left or right (of course, in India, noise pervades all space!). I cannot, therefore drive. Ergo, no need for a driver’s licence.
Then came the AADHAAR card fiasco. Indeed it was a fiasco.  Along with my family, all told four of us, did the necessary things together. And, two of us got their cards and I was among the other two, as bad luck would have it. I again registered, re-registered and re-re-registered (if you are losing count, that was four times in all) as advised by the agency that was doing this stuff in Delhi, but to no avail. Then one fine morning, I got my AADHAAR card in my registered email! I figured out (don’t ask me how) that it was in response to my very first registration! Now you can understand my feelings towards the legitimacy of this card. I have nothing but contempt for it.
Now I am in Srirangam, in central Tamil Nadu. Though I own the house I have retired to, and I have the papers (mortgage fully paid) that was not good enough to establish my residence. Of course, you have heard of absentee-landlord.
I heard that the post-office can validate your residence. I did get that card, after a postman coming and validating that I indeed live here; but, this card, though issued by the authority of a Government of India unit, appears to be as useful as a local bus ticket after the journey.
With some trouble I got a SIM card from BSNL in Srirangam (same trouble about proof of my residence) and that is my number now. Though I have not discarded my Delhi number, I use it very rarely, indeed, if ever.
At the insistence of my better-half (she indeed is the better-half), I got a ration card but one that is merely for the sake of establishing the address of my residence. The card says so explicitly, and that is the way I wanted it. Here too, there were some chai paani  considerations. In a sense, then, I have lost the locus standi to take up arms against corruption.
I had a bank account in Delhi and I got my account transferred to its branch in Srirangam. That was difficult even if not a torture. I have a number of fixed deposits in the bank and also some mutual fund investments through it and its credit card too. That is, I have a network of connections with the bank. The banker at the branch tells me I have Rs. ___ relationship with them!
But this relationship appears to be of no use in a particular instance. It is only to get to this point I have woven the long story thus far. It gets a little bit longer still L.
To summarize, I have the following to establish who I am and where I reside: a. PAN card (photo, no address, but DoB); b. ration card (my photo and address); c. the card from the post office (photo and address); d. AADHAAR card (photo, Delhi address; provenance Delhi). I do not have a voter ID card. I also do not have a driver’s licence.
My bank credit card expired at the end of January 2017. I got an SMS on m y BSNL, Srirangam number that I will be getting my card, about a month before the expiry date. Then, a few days later I got another SMS saying that my card has been returned saying “Addressee not found”. This gave me a clue that the card has been sent to my Delhi address, where I do not reside but perhaps continued to be as my address in their records. As I had changed my registered phone number through the bank’s ATM, I was under the opinion that my records will carry my changed address also. My opinion was neither mentioned to nor endorsed by the branch people, I must add. My bad.
But, as it has turned out, the credit card segment of the bank does not recognize the transactions through the bank’s ATM in respect of address change of its card holders.
I was instructed to contact my bank branch. I duly did that and was told, very politely, that the branch has no powers in this regard. You see, the card business appears to be a separate profit-centre of the bank, with hardly any connection to the other verticals of the bank. I understand this is for the safety of the customer but the hoops to jump through and the fire walls to jump over are beyond my capacity at my age. Still I tried and offered self-attested copies of the documents, given by arms of the government, along with the necessary form, duly filled in.
Now, came the coup de grace. I was told by the bank it is doubtful that the IDs I have produced to establish my residence would be acceptable in this transaction. But, the branch would anyway forward the material and hope it is accepted. I am waiting. And, I think I know what I would do if indeed I get my credit card. I would cut it into pieces and leave it at the steps of the branch. I have other banks that are ready to offer me credit card and one card is more than enough for me.
Now, you understand why I think it does not pay to be a citizen of India.
Raghuram Ekambaram


Aditi said...

Really, it can be so frustrating.I had done this rigmarole of address change after I retired.But my passport continues to bear Delhi address, I don't intend taking the trouble of changing it, I changed address in aadhaar,all my bank and credit card records and PAN. But will try to get a voter id card made after UP election.

Aditi said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
mandakolathur said...

Thanks for such an early validation of my travails, Aditi. Unless I am forced to I do not intend to chnge the address on my AADHAAR card. I really cannot understand the meaning of having one's address on the AADHAAR card, which is but the identity of the individual. Why should this be linked her residence address. Something does not compute here, seriously. Nadan Nilekeni, I would like a reply from him!

Thanks again.


Tomichan Matheikal said...

When I shifted from Delhi two years ago it became my pastime to go to various offices and get necessary changes made in all those documents. Not too cumbersome as I had imagined. So there's reason to be proud of the country, it seems. 😂

mandakolathur said...

Thanks Matheikal ... I felt somewhat like that when I returned to India in 1991 - things were not as I thought they would be. But, this time, I felt the full brunt. Hence the lament.


Aditi said...

Regarding changing address on Aadhaar, it is now accepted as both identity proof and address proof for various purposes. I had got my cell phone number linked to Aadhaar before retirement. If one does that, it is quite simple to make changes in variable parameters like residence thereafter through self service portal, as the OTP for authorising changes are received in the registered mobile number.

In fact my husband has recently given a self attested copy of updated e-aadhar printout as both ID proof and Address proof for renewing passport.