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97106Subir Roy: The police verification nightmare

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  • <ravindra@...>
    Aug 23, 2014
      Business Standard
      Subir Roy  August 8, 2014 Last Updated at 22:40 IST

      Subir Roy: The police verification nightmare

      My wife's sister-in-law looked distraught. She usually manages to handle, quite well, the many hassles that are part of the daily routine of the head of a rather traditional middle-class household. No, she was not upset because the trusted full-time maid, who had gone home for a couple of weeks, had slipped on a muddy village track and broken her hand. The problem was the city's passport office - or, more correctly, the local police. Her passport had been routinely renewed without a glitch ever since she had got married and moved to Kolkata four decades ago. But this time the police officer on the phone had sounded ominous. You were born in Bangladesh, he had asserted, as if it were a crime. You will keep ready the citizenship certificate when I come around, he had added, even more ominously. She thanked her stars that she stopped just short of blurting out: "What on earth is that?"

      Bangladesh was East Pakistan when she got married. Both her parents and prospective in-laws were, of course, Indians before Partition. Marrying an Indian made her an Indian citizen, and the much-renewed passport was the golden key that let her periodically visit her baper bari (father's place) to see those relatives who had remained behind in Dhaka, and rediscover the taste of superior fish and mangoes.

      Then the appointed day came, and the police officer swaggered in and confidently renewed his demand for the citizenship certificate. Also, could she show him a phone or electricity bill bearing her name and this address? She was amazed. They were all in her husband's name, she retorted with a mixture of trepidation and indignation, and if he wanted to find out if she had indeed lived here for 40 years, all he needed to do was go and ask theneighbours.

      What the police officer had not budgeted for was the presence of her son. He introduced himself as a practicing advocate at the Calcutta High Court and in a few minutes made clear, politely but firmly, that he knew the law way better than the police officer did. "My mother married an Indian citizen decades ago, and we have been visiting mama bari (maternal uncle's place) in Dhaka, courtesy our Indian passports, for as long as I can remember," he said. "So where is the question of a 60-plus lady having to prove her Indianness again to get her passport renewed?" The police officer soon departed without insisting on seeing all the documents that he had first asked for.

      A close friend has a somewhat different story to tell. A senior executive with a multinational company who divides his time between Europe and India: his passport is his lifeblood. So when he was told of a police verification for renewal he gave it due seriousness.

      The gentleman came, asked his many questions, and my friend made the mistake of handling officialdom the way he does in Europe and recalls that he effectively made it clear that all he was able to offer was a very good cup of tea. His speech had lost some of the subtleties and euphemisms (bad continental European influence) that both the Bengali and English languages allow you to use to convey a firm message sweetly.

      Soon came the passport office bombshell. The police have reported that you have not produced the necessary documents to their satisfaction and as such (that beautiful officialese) your passport will cease to be valid from what was effectively the day before yesterday. He panicked. Getting all those multiple-entry visas at one go in a new passport when it eventually came would be a nightmare.

      Then he did what many educated Indians do when in a jam with officialdom - he asked somebody who asked somebody who asked somebody else. Thereafter, visiting the senior officer at the police headquarters was a breeze. The "open sesame" that worked right through was "so-and-so's case", repeated by functionaries at various stages to explain to a colleague or superior who he was. My friend now has a passport that is in no danger of meeting an untimely death.

      Anecdotal evidence abounds in Kolkata on the nightmare that is police verification to get a valid passport - the tales invariably ending with a clear sense of "you know what you have to do". There is also a good bit of circumstantial evidence. The police themselves have, at the highest level, issued instructions to their staff that they have to give receipts for all documents taken during verification, so that the same documents are not asked for again and again. Official statistics also indicate that the wait for a passport is among the longest in West Bengal, way ahead of what it takes in states like Gujarat and Karnataka. And the major culprit is police verification.