Saturday, June 11, 2011

'Kela' Republic

Statutory Warning – This is my longest post. Maybe my last as well!

I see Baba Ramdev on TV everyday. I don’t like him. I will not compound facts here. I don’t care if anyone gets offended by this statement. My reasons are very personal. I guess, more than Baba Ramdev, it’s this ridiculous idea of a ‘New India’ floating around that I seem to dislike even more.

I have had a pretty eventful week. A wise man had once said ‘He who laughs at himself never runs out of things to laugh at’. My visa application (to The United Arab Emirates) was recently rejected as UAE Emigration records suggested I was residing in the UAE while applying for the visa from India. As funny as it might sound, there is reason to worry. For all that I know, I might be a victim of identity theft. I did feel important for approximately six seconds.

Countless mails were exchanged. My passport was scanned, scrutinized and sent to different places at once. I no longer felt important. I felt rather odd and isolated. It was slightly intimidating as well. My travel agent suggested me to investigate the matter once I reach there. Such intense invigilation was clearly not my idea of a lazy Thursday.

I decided to take a breather. I met my grand mom the same night, and we had a rather amusing conversation about marriage and family dynamics. For a 75 year old suffering from all sorts of geriatric ailments, she makes a lot of sense. I slept early as the whole business of getting my passport issue fixed had made me travel close to 300 kms in 18 hours. Famished, I slept like a dog, and woke up the next day afternoon to a rather bewildering sight.

My brother (A sane yet highly frustrated Indian citizen) was seething. I faintly remembered him discussing about applying for his marriage certificate the previous day. Honestly, I was a little apprehensive about approaching him at that point. He was so angry, he could have killed someone. He was swearing, his nerves throbbing, pulses racing and his face was plush red. He rarely loses his cool; I knew something was seriously amiss.

My brother was unable to apply for his marriage certificate within 45 days of his wedding. It was an error of judgment on his part. I guess he was too caught up with all the ‘tamasha’ that surrounds a wedding. He is a student of Emergency Medicine, works 7 days a week usually. The odd day that he gets a holiday, is on a Sunday. He lives in Calicut with his wife (A doctor again), which is approximately 3 hours from Kannur, by road. They have a lovely little kid, my niece, and she turned one recently.

The procedure to get a marriage certificate in Kerala is rather simple. You have to fill up a form, sign twice in front of the registrar with two witnesses, and in theory you would get your certificate in 2 months. Though in practice, there is an entirely different script.

My brother had patiently filled the form (printed in Malayalam) earlier in the morning. Considering the fact that the form was in Malayalam, he filled up a rather lengthy and slightly bizarre form in the same language. He attached his wife’s driving license and his passport copy as documents for verifying names/addresses. He signed wherever necessary, carried all the documents required, took my sister in law with him (Both of them had to be present at the registrar’s office in order to obtain the certificate) and headed to the registrar’s office.

He met the clerk in charge of handling marriage certificates. A Salt and peppery haired man, with a full sleeved white shirt and an air of scumbag entitlement around him; he epitomized all possible stereotypes! He was indeed the prototype government servant. He looked at the form, and mocked at my brother. The conversations that ensued ranged from borderline stupid to downright ridiculous.

He asked my brother if he possessed common sense. My brother was obviously offended. When asked why he felt my brother lacked common sense, the salt and peppery haired man said that if he did posses common sense, he would have filled up the form in English. My brother took the form, and asked him in which language were the questions printed. He replied ‘In Malayalam’. My brother asked if it was mentioned anywhere in the form that the applicant should fill the form in English. He replied saying ‘No’. Now, it was my brother’s turn to offend the salt and peppery haired man. He asked, ‘So what are you talking about?’

The clerk replied curtly ‘Do not talk to me about the technicalities of this form’

The clerk was bruised, quite badly. Round one was a clear knock out. His next statement was preposterous. He asked my brother why he would show his wife’s driving license as proof for verifying her name. My brother replied that it’s a document issued by the government. The clerk retorted with a vengeance saying ‘Driving license, really? Go to Mangalore, anyone can get a fake one, this will jus not do’

My brother knew that argument was clearly not the way out. Their sensibilities were distinctly different. He asked if my sister in law’s pan card would do. The clerk laughed. He said ‘Doctor Sir, It won’t do’.
‘So how about Election ID?’
The reply was terse. ‘You know how they are made as well, Get your wife’s ration card or SSLC book, nothing else will do. (She was not allowed to use her Passport, as she had applied for one only after she got married)

For the next few minutes, my brother just stared at the man in disbelief. SSLC book and Ration Card remain the only two documents in India that is immune to tampering. You can fake election ids, birth certificates, pan cards, but you just can’t recreate the SSLC book or the even more primitive Ration card. The logic, spellbinding! India Shining, Indeed!

I forgot to mention one key element here. The form had clearly mentioned that the passport, driving license, ration card or election ID can be used as a document to verify name/address. When brought to the notice of the clerk, he replied curtly ‘Do not talk to me about the technicalities of this form’

The entire form had to be refilled, in English, with a new set of documents. The clerk also informed my brother that he had to get a letter from the ward counselor certifying that the house in which my brother resides, was indeed his own house and hence, all necessary documents had to be furnished to the ward counselor.

He was also asked to arrange for two witnesses (not related to my brother), who would be available whenever summoned by the registrar to verify the details. There is no time frame here, it could be anywhere between a week and two months, and if by chance the witness leaves the state, falls sick or fails to show up, my brother wouldn’t get his certificate. I guess its applicable if the witness dies as well.

The story doesn’t end there. He also had to get a letter of approval from the Mullah who presided over the Nikah, signed and sealed by the Masjid Secretary. Since my Brother’s in-laws hail from Taliparamba, a small town situated 30kms from Kannur, he had to drive back and forth to get a mere signature from the hapless Mullah who had presided over the function.

As my brother’s wedding took place at my home, he was asked to get a document verifying the very existence of my home. The document has to be handwritten, the language prehistoric, only then would it hold value in the bureaucratic set up. One should not get confused with the ward counselor’s letter mentioned above. They are two separate documents.

And as a punishment for applying late, my brother had to also write an apology letter (In English or Malayalam) addressed to the registrar for committing such a terrible crime. He has to be back again next week, with his wife and child on a weekday, to sign in front of the Salt and Peppery haired clerk. Once that’s done, the registrar would call him to collect his certificate, and this time he would have to get along the witnesses as well, on a working day! That in short, is the task in practice.

We spoke over tea. My brother had calmed down by then. His questions were pertinent. Time and again, we gloat over the fact that we live in a free democratic set up. A citizen’s right remains the state’s prerogative. We also have a superpower. The Vote! Strike them down every 5 years, celebrate our power, and then continue to remain victims of bureaucratic demagoguery. We celebrate the victory of TMC in Bengal, and the AIDMK in Tamil Nadu. News Channels title it Democracy’s victory. The bureaucratic nightmare continues for another 5 years, we strike down the elected ones again, and the same old story repeats itself, like in a vicious circle. My right to vote is of utmost importance though. That’s my comeback. An exercise to inflate my thwarted ego!

Make the ‘empowered’ citizens run around for months to get a get a piece of paper, that in all certainty will not be accepted anywhere in India as the chances of getting a fake one is alarmingly high. And yet, The Dawood Ebrahim’s and Hasan Ali’s of this world have no trouble moving around in this country. The terrorists, politicians, bureaucrats, filmstars, civil society servants and Yoga Gurus in India live a charmed life. The rest of us have to be content with Bureaucratic Red Tapism. We are the empowered folks after all. We remain suspects in the eyes of the state, for marrying, for voting, for holding pan cards, for paying income taxes, for taking ration. That’s what I could infer from the salt and pepper haired man’s comments.

No Baba, No Anna Ji can/would want to change this. The intellectual elite of this country are interested only in discussing profound issues. Union Ministers are busy organizing red carpet welcoming sessions for self appointed civil society leaders. Political leaders dance to celebrate the idea of democracy, and they give press conferences to justify dancing. It comes on TV every night at 9, on all news channels. But we, the empowered citizens of India have the last laugh. We are the ones who send SMS’ to polls conducted by our beloved news channels. Our right to express, indeed!

‘He who laughs at himself never runs out of things to laugh at’

P.S It’s been 12 months since I gave exams for pursuing my further studies, and I still don’t know when my classes will begin. It’s a government run, prestigious institute.


Hestia said...

Shazzles, I couldn't agree more. As you know, all my recent frustrations are related to this very issue. I don't understand what is going to help bring change!

Bibhash Dash said...

hey shazzy!
agree with you on the fundamentals there...too much red tape-ism than we need...
i've myself been forced to visit Bangalore three times in a week (yes, you read right, THREE!) and each time, u had to stand in a line for four hours just so you could submit/collect a form...its shite indeed...
hope your bro gets his work done tho...all the best

Shaz said...

Dash Man

Its almost terrible. I mean, I don't propose a solution here. I don't know one to be fairly honest. He will get his work done eventually, what other choice does he have. The problem though is the fact that this very lack of choice is the one factor being most exploited. Sucks, but can't help it!