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Non-citizens? Meet a journalist, a caterer and bonded labourers without papers

What do a caterer, a journalist and a family of former bonded labourers have in common? Express finds it is not just muslims who fear the consequences of an NRC. From members of oppressed communities,

Published: 29th December 2019 01:52 AM  |   Last Updated: 29th December 2019 10:32 AM   |  A+A-

By Express News Service

V Hari  | 62
He hails from the Brahmin community and is popular in certain circles in Chennai’s Chrompet locality for preparing “clean vegetarian food”. He runs a small food catering business with his wife 57-year-old H Vijayalakshmi. Neither of them have birth certificates. Vijayalakshmi lost most photographs and all identity documents of her parents in a flood in the 1990s. Hari does not have contact with the rest of his family to know if they have any documents related to his parents.

The union government had mentioned that property documents could be used as proof of citizenship. However, the couple has neither purchased any immovable property nor inherited any property to show their ancestry. Like most in the unorganised sector, they have not paid any taxes since they said their income is below the taxable slab. They live in a two-bedroom rental house, in which they use one room just for storing vessels. They have no children. They do, however, possess Aadhaar, ration and voter ID cards. Their hope is that their neighbours and relatives might be able to testify for them, if they are required to prove their citizenship. Besides their catering services, Hari is also known as a ‘guruswamy’ who leads Ayyappa devotees to Sabarimala.

Sankar & Family
Sankar and his family of six are Irulars, a scheduled tribe. They live in a small hamlet near Acharapakkam in Kancheepuram district. They were bonded labourers who were rescued five years ago. Sankar and his wife Amudha have four children, none of whom were born in hospital. She gave birth to one child in her mother’s house and three others in the woods when she was a bonded labourer working as a woodcutter in a ‘Karuvelankadu’. Her employer did not allow her to go to a hospital to deliver the children.

“We learned one can quantify a year only after we were released by revenue officials. Until then, we would say one Pongal ago or two Pongals ago,” said Amudha. No one in the family has a birth certificate except their eldest daughter, whose school managed to arrange for one. Although all the children have been enrolled at school, they cannot read or write in any language fluently as they did not have a proper elementary education. Even though all of them have Aadhaar, ration and voter ID cards, all three cards have different spellings, dates of birth and ages mentioned. They have no idea when they were born. “All the dates were plugged in arbitrarily,” said Amudha.

Her second daughter aspires to be a revenue official while her third daughter wants to be a nurse. Her youngest child and only son wants to be a police officer. They have no idea there might come a time when they will have to prove their citizenship with documents detailing their date and place of birth.

Sudha* | 37
A woman with a loco-motor disability, she lives with her children at a women’s shelter run jointly by the government and an NGO. She makes a living by stitching clothes for women in the neighbourhood. “Even though I had a birth certificate, my alcoholic husband burned all my documents, including mark sheets. He didn’t want me to find a job anywhere or run away from him,” she said. She fled the house with just her children’s belongings two years ago and has never returned to her husband. Her parents abandoned her in her teens and she has no connection with the rest of her family. While she has an Aadhaar card, it mentions her age as 32. “I do not know what I will do if the government asks for my birth certificate. I do not have anyone to come and testify as a witness as I ran away from various places in my life,” she rued.
 

Prathmesh Kher | 32
He works with the editorial team of a digital news organisation in Mumbai. He is not sure he has a birth certificate. “I don’t know if I have a birth certificate. Well... there was one. I just haven’t seen it in a really long time. I don’t think it’s there anymore,” he said. While he does not have a voter ID, he said he has an Aadhaar, a passport and a “broken” PAN card. Even though he can be considered “middle-class”, he has neither land nor house to his name. His mother lost all her documents in floods in the early 2000s and does not know if his father has one, Kher claimed. “If you see a nearly 200-pound figure standing in front of you, you’ll have to believe that I was born, right?” he joked. He said if there came a time when he would have to prove he was an Indian citizen he wouldn’t do it as a mark of protest.
 

Geetha
She has no identity proof. She is deaf and speech impaired, according to her disability certificate — the lone piece of documentation she has. While the certificate mentions her name as “Geetha”, nobody at the shelter she’s at knows what her real name is. “She was found on a railway platform and was disoriented. So we brought her in,” said Dr Aiswarya Rao, a disability rights activist who runs the shelter. Rao said they did not know which part of the country the woman is from. Geetha can neither read nor write. She can communicate with some basic signs, but has not conveyed anything that may reveal her identity. When showed a copy of someone else’s birth certificate, she showed no sign of recognition. She knows nothing of the CAA, NRC or the NPR.
 

Rekha* | 46
A transwoman, who lives in Chennai, Rekha does not have a birth certificate. Every other document proving her identity is at her parents’ house, from which she ran away in her late teens. She has an Aadhaar card and a passport. “But the government has said both those documents will not be accepted as proof of citizenship,” she said. She has no contact with her family. “If I go back to my village to take any of my documents my family and neighbours will kill me,” she said, adding that even if she got her documents, they all bear her birth name. After hearing that several transwomen had been left out of the NRC in Assam, she said she was really worried about the future. 



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