Have you applied for the document?

I filled the verification report, initialed it, and handed over the application with the photographs affixed
Have you applied for the document?
"I had no idea what he was talking about. How was I supposed to follow it?" [Image for representational purpose only]File/ GK

Kashmir sans Identity proof is incomplete. Its importance can be gauged from the sentence from Mirza Waheed’s book The Collaborator: “Anyhow, the card—everyone, as I said, has to carry an ID here, even the militants, even the dead!” One fine January afternoon, I went to my nearest common service center aka Khidmat Center to submit online form to obtain this key travel document. I was overcharged.

The nightmare started when I was asked to get D.O.B certificate issued by the local police station. This certificate, I was told, is mandatory for children born post militancy era. Next morning, I visited the nearest police station, along with an ailing chowkidar. He is dead now.

As I pushed the heavy grilled gate, a policeman hastily grabbed his rifle, since I was rubbing my freezing hands inside my pheran to generate warmth. He asked the purpose of my visit to “his” police station. I was asked to leave my cellphone with him. A brief argument followed. I asked him if I could keep the phone switched off, but he would not be budged. I went inside.

Kyasa daleel (what is the matter)?” I don’t know who he was, but the other policemen addressed him as “sahab”.

“Sir, I have to apply for passport but I have been asked to get a birth certificate from the concerned police station.” I responded.

He directed the munshi, who always remains busy flipping the pages of those giant registers, to check my credentials. Sahab issued a direction to write a simple application on a white sheet to the concerned tehsildar for an “order” copy. Further, I was asked to bring the chowkidar along.

The next morning, I boarded a minibus with the chowkidar. I neared the thana and unbolted the gate. The gatekeeper was as rude as the day before, as if he held some sort of grudge against me. “Kaeshur chi na samij evaan? Voneina beh hotit, sahib ha chi yore? (Don’t you understand my language? Didn’t I ask you to sit there, the boss is around?)”

I obeyed the directions by the sentinel, who kept a keen suspicious vigil on me, since I had keffiyeh (a Palestinian scarf meant for men) draped around my neck. He was perhaps following the rulebook: “respect all, suspect all.”

The frail chowkidar was asked to wait on the bench near the tea stall outside the police station. I rushed to the tehsil office, a mile away, to get my application attested. I found both boss and his deputy absent. I had expected to submit a simple application on a white sheet, but was instead directed to pay Rs 50 for a stamp paper that otherwise costs Rs 20. I was asked to get chowkidar along the next morning, so that his witness account can be recorded. So, the next day, he assured the authorities that I was a permanent resident of my village and that he would be solely responsible for the authenticity of that statement.

I returned to the police station a week later and received my certificate after paying one hundred rupees as Chay. I was supposed to reach Passport Seva Kendra, located on the banks of Boulevard at 9:15 am the next morning. At 8:30 a.m., There was no queue; after “normal” frisking, I headed towards the spacious office. By now, the rush of applicants had mounted, and a serpentine queue had formed, cutting across all age groups. Inside the towering fences, we were frisked by men in civvies; a few steps ahead, frisked again by men (and women) in uniform.

At the first counter, a fresh-faced young man thoroughly checked my documents and occasionally eyed me from his comfy chair and allotted a file number. It took me nearly ninety minutes to fill the papers at four different cabins. Finally at the exit, I was asked to fill a feedback form: ‘So far, so good’.

Now, I had to be ready for the cumbersome process of police and CID verification. Two weeks later, around 9 PM, my phone buzzed with an unknown number. It was a call from the nearest police station. Without introducing his good self or any formal greetings, the caller asked, “Are you from this particular village?”

“Yes, speaking. May I know who is on the other side of the line?”

“Have you applied for a passport?”

“Yes, but why are you asking?”

He ordered to come to the police station the next day and get an application signed by the mukdam (village headman). He added that I should call him on the given number before visiting the station. “And don’t forget to bring two passport size photographs along.” Before I could say anything else, he hung up.

The next day, I walked to meet the mukdam, who, interestingly, belongs to another village. He was more than hospitable. “Come, come inside, meyoun gobur (my son),” he welcomed me, flashing an innocent smile on his wrinkled face. We sat in a dimly lit hall.

He lifted the translucent curtains so that more light could enter the room. He asked me to read and explain what I had written in the application. He stamped and signed the paper. I left, thinking about how his courtesy, politeness, openness, humility and sincerity had moved me. Within half an hour, I reached the police station. No one was guarding the gate.

I called up the cop who had asked me to come; he directed me to a tea-stall where he was waiting. Another boy, my age, was also there, completing similar formalities. I filled the Police Verification Report, initialed it and handed over the application with the photographs affixed. He asked for “Chaya paaya”.

He is paid by the government for what he does. I relied on transparency and accountability. He was upset when I left without paying him. A week later, a CID officer called me to the same police station with a letter, approved by the sarpanch, saying that I don’t have any criminal charges against me. In the third floor of one of the buildings, a man with a trimmed beard responded to my greetings. He asked my name and inquired whether any of my relative was associated with any militant outfit.

I responded in negative. It had been four months now since I had applied for the passport. I asked him, though reluctantly, if he could tell me when will it be dispatched to my place? He answered with a grin, “Yethpaeth che pakhas (depends on how you follow it).” I had no idea what he was talking about. How was I supposed to follow it? I faked a smile as I prepared to leave. While handing me my phone, the gatekeeper lit a cigarette, smoke came dancing from his mouth in beautiful patterns only to disappear in the thin air.

This booklet issued by the Consular Passport and Visa (CPA) division of the Ministry of External Affairs serves as proof of Indian citizenship under The Passports Act (1967). In September 2007, the Indian Union Cabinet approved a new passport issuance system under the Passport Seva Project. The new system is trying to be “transparent, timely, more accessible and reliable manner” for its issuance.

Six months later, the wait was over. As Suzanne Collins wrote in Mockingjay, “Waiting is the worst torture in the world”. Postmaster of my locality informed about this much-awaited document. In a matter of minutes, I reached to collect my passport copy. He also asked for Rs 50 as Chaya-paaya (the civilized way of asking for a bribe). I told him that I am writing a passport diary and it will be made public, he folded his hands. “I am sorry, I won’t ask again. I don’t need it, please take this.”

Travelling is knowledge and right to travel is a human rights concept that the constitutions of all the states respect. As expressed in Article 13 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, a citizen of a state has the liberty to travel, reside in, leave and return to his country. The right to travel is a basic right and its denial tantamount to a human rights violation. Recently, Indian passport ranked 90th in the most powerful passport report called Henley Passport Index 2021. We are a nuclear superpower with one of the weakest passports in the world.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are the personal opinions of the author.

The facts, analysis, assumptions and perspective appearing in the article do not reflect the views of GK.

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