Social inclusion & Identity Proof

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                           Shakeb Ayaz*

A newfound confidence and self-assurance reflected in her demeanor as Rajkumari walked to the household she works for, sporting a new photo identity card around her neck, raising eyebrows. A domestic worker, she is a migrant in Delhi from Bihar and was trying to procure an identity proof for herself for years without success. Finally, having joined a self-help group (SHG) which works for the rights of domestic workers like her, she could secure a valid identity paper for herself to live and work in this city. Later, with the help of the SHG, Rajkumari was also able to procure all the valid government issued ID proofs to breathe easy in the city that provides her livelihood.

Identification Proof and its Benefits

PAN Card, Aadhaar card, Voter ID card and bank passbook, besides the driving license and passport, are some of the main documents which certify the citizenship of an individual. It also strengthens her ties with the state, defines her relationship with the government, and hands her power to negotiate her rights. It also allows her to live relatively peacefully and seek legal remedies provided by the constitution.

Denial of identity proof amounts to denial of citizenship rights. In metro cities a large number of domestic workers, mostly migrants, do not possess valid identification proofs, making them vulnerable to exploitation by the employers, police, sundry agents and landlords. It reduces their bargaining power, forces them to work on low wages, and exposes them to police high-handedness. At times such migrants are branded as Bangladeshi immigrants and harassed, even if they hail from West Bengal. They end up paying higher rents and electricity charges and can’t even get a SIM card for their phones. Even government hospitals often refuse treatment without a valid id proof.

A majority of domestic workers in cities like Delhi belong to vulnerable Dalit, tribal and minority communities and are migrants from states like West Bengal, Jharkhand, Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh and Odisha1. Often their circumstances force them to avoid collecting their salaries for months because they do not have bank accounts due to lack of id proof, which makes them vulnerable to cheating by employers. Sometimes their fellow domestic workers too suspect them of being illegal Bangladeshis just because they speak Bengali and do not possess proper id papers. They suffer this fate because many Bangladeshi workers actually pose as Bengalis from West Bengal but that is not the fault of the genuine Indians. As a result their children also suffer because it becomes next to impossible to get admission in schools. Their vulnerabilities make it tough to demand their rights or to negotiate with the administration, police or the government. That they belong to backward communities like Dalits, backwards and pasmanda Muslims also goes against them due to the traditional hierarchies at work.

The Power of Numbers

Soni Rani, coordinator of domestic worker program of SEWA, told Common Cause that there are eight SEWA Shakti Kendras (SSKs) in Delhi where as members women domestic worker are issues ids and Delhi government-approved SEWA Delhi Domestic Worker Cards. At SSKs, members can access information, application, support, and advice related to social security benefits.

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Encouraging Safe Migration

Metro cities like Delhi attract large-scale migration from other states due to high demand for labour. While some migrate looking for better earning options many are forced to migrate due to the agrarian crisis, droughts or floods. Migrants do not often possess id proofs and sometimes documents are eaten by pests or lost in disasters like floods or fires. Obviously there is a need to promote safe migration in a city like Delhi where life without an ID proof is fraught with challenges, struggle and daily harassment. This can be done only through awareness campaigns and professional counseling.

If a worker possesses valid ID proofs like Voter id card, Aadhaar Card and PAN Card from her home state she would avoid the usual hassles of the metro city. This is the idea behind promoting safe migration. SEWA’s office bearers are therefore active in districts of Bihar like Munger, Katihar, Bhagalpur and Patna operating full-fledged training centers and offices in these areas. They work closely with local populations, develop contacts with people looking to migrate, provide training to them, and encourage them to register with it so that they can keep track of their movements when they land in Delhi. Similarly, SEWA also has a big division in West Bengal, with its volunteers working in Malda and Murshidabad districts, from where workers migrate to Delhi in huge numbers.

Most of the migration of domestic workers from states like Bihar, Jharkhand and West Bengal is unorganized and takes place through traditional channels. While embarking on a journey, a typical migrant is not even aware of her destination, prospective employer or place of residence. In such a situation, possession of id proof gives them a sense of confidence to make the most out of their lives.

Social service and self-help groups face numerous challenges because it is extremely difficult for them to dismantle traditional modes of migration. The agents or touts are often close relatives, neighbours or acquaintances which makes it difficult for the volunteers to go against them. What the volunteers therefore do is to simply tell the workers to take certain precautionary measures like carrying id papers from the home state while migrating. Social activists working in the area also try to document their personal details, contact information and prospective address at the destination city. These workers are encouraged to contact the organization in case of any distress. Organizations like National Domestic Workers Union work in Jharkhand in partnership with SEWA.

Engagements with Panchayats

In order to use institutional engagements, some social service organizations engage with village local bodies like Panchayats. Collaboration with Panchayats ensures that they can monitor each and every migration from that particular village to towns and cities. The experiment has been very successful in Jharkhand but has achieved limited success in Bihar. National Domestic Workers Union works in close coordination with Panchayats in Jharkhand, and tracks issues related to trafficking and migration. Panchayats are encouraged to issue identification certificates bearing photograph of the worker, along with details of her village, address, and reasons for her migration. It bears the signature of mukhiya/sarpanch with a stamp. This document could be used by the worker as an identity proof in metro cities, and can be treated as a baseline document to procure other identification proofs.

Aajeevika Bureau, an organization which works in Rajasthan and Gujarat, offers a comprehensive registration and Photo ID service. Aajeevika Bureau is directly operational in villages and blocks of Udaipur, Rajsamand, Dungarpur and Banswara districts - the main labour sending regions in southern Rajasthan. At the destination end, the organization is present in Ahmedabad, Surat and Idar in Gujarat and in Jaipur and Udaipur within Rajasthan.

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Aajeevika Bureau’s Photo id is authorized by the Government of Rajasthan’s Department of Labour through an official order issued in 2008. It is backed by a simple form which captures important demographic, occupational and migration related information. The information is verified and the card is signed by the Sarpanches - the elected head of village Panchayats, whose seal of approval authenticates the identity of the individual and the identity document. Understandably, the Photo ID is an immensely popular offering and well over a thousand cards are issued every month to migrant workers.

Speaking on Aajeevika Bureau’s migration support and service, Priyanka Jain, Program Manager at its Centre for Migration and Labor solutions, says, that the card issued by them contains name, photograph, age, village address and the description about skill of the worker. On its back side, there is a seal of approval by the Sarpanch of the village. This offers some protection. However, she cautions, that merely handing over an ID does not imply that we have changed the response of the bureaucratic system. The only saving grace is that because the id process is authorized by Rajasthan government it is very handy for accessing social security schemes in that state, but if the worker migrates to Gujarat, it is at least a source of identification.

Registration and Photo id has served the larger goal of creating a valid database of migrants. This database is shared with the government regularly and it contributes to the development of a legitimate migration profile of the state.

Advocacy in Government Offices for ID Proofs

When activists of SEWA first approached the UIDAI (Unique Identification Authority of India) office at New Delhi for seeking Aadhaar cards for migrant workers, they were initially refused, with the authority arguing that it had already undertaken the process pan-India. But SEWA had already created a database of migrant domestic workers who did not possess Aadhaar card across Delhi. This database forced the UIDAI to take note of the matter and accept applications for bulk issuance of the document. It then sent those applications to SDM office, which after making requisite enquiries forwarded it to Deputy Commissioner, who issued the order for putting up Aadhaar card camps in various locations of SEWA’s catchment area. In this case, the ID card issued by the self-help group was considered as the basic document for the issuance of Aadhaar cards.

Advocacy with MLAs for Identification Proofs

Ahead of elections, MLAs and politicians are approached for facilitations of issuance of voter ID cards for workers. But they themselves take active interest in procuring ID proofs for the domestic workers and other such migrant workers. To simplify matters a worker can receive a registered letter at her place of residence to show it as a proof of her address. Armed with this address proof, the migrant worker can then take a letter from the MLA verifying her address and identity, which can help procure an ID like the Aadhar Card.

Advocacy with Banks and Schools

Denial of identity proof has simultaneously led to denial of financial security to domestic workers as no bank would open any account without proper identification and address proof. However, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s pet scheme of opening Jan Dhan Yojana accounts has simplified the process. It facilitates the opening of bank account in any government or private bank even without any identification proof.

The RBI note of August 26, 2014 confirms the following:

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“Those persons who do not have any of the ‘officially valid documents’ can open “Small Accounts” with banks. A “Small Account” can be opened on the basis of a self-attested photograph and putting his/her signatures or thumb print in the presence of an official of the bank. Such accounts have limitations regarding the aggregate credits (not more than Rupees one lac in a year), aggregate withdrawals (nor more than Rupees ten thousand in a month) and balance in the accounts (not more than Rupees fifty thousand at any point of time). These accounts would be valid normally for a period of twelve months. Thereafter, such accounts would be allowed to continue for a further period of twelve more months, if the account-holder provides a document showing that he/she has applied for any of the Officially Valid Document, within 12 months of opening the small account.”

However, there have been instances of banks turning away poor people owing to lack of id proof which is a violation of the RBI guidelines. Taking cue from RBI’s relaxation of identity proof norms, some advocacy groups like SEWA celebrated International Migrants Day (December 18, 2015) all over India in their offices in which labor department and local bank officials were also invited. They were sensitized regarding issues of migration and the challenges faced by the workers in opening bank accounts and engaging with Labor Department. The organization provided a platform for the workers, who did not have any id proof, to directly engage with the bank officials. On the advocacy done by social service organizations, the banks opened many Jan Dhan Yojana accounts for the domestic workers. In Bihar, the efforts led to opening up of at least 10,000 accounts.

Social service organizations and self help groups across the board take extra precautions on facilitating ID proofs and documents of domestic workers hailing from West Bengal, amid reports of Bangladeshi immigrants disguising themselves as Indian citizens. Self-help groups make a thorough check of the antecedents of the individuals before proceeding with the identity proof applications due to security threat posed by illegal immigration from across the eastern border.

The Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan and Right to Education (RTE) Act does not make ID proof mandatory for children’s admission into government schools. An affidavit containing details of the family is considered enough. Yet, there have been instances when some schools have raised unnecessary objections forcing the self-help groups to negotiate on the workers’ behalf. However, when it comes to the EWS quota under the RTE Act, private schools are very particular about birth certificates of children. In such cases, self-help groups help children of workers obtain birth certificates with the help of Aadhaar cards, affidavits and immunization cards from their villages. If the children are immunized in Delhi clinics, that is sufficient for the issuance of birth certificates. If the delivery has taken place in a village home, the Panchayat can issue a certificate.

*Shakeb Ayaz is a Research Officer cum Assistant Editor in Common Cause.

Volume: Vol. XXXV No. 2