Mumbai: As opposition to CAA grows, homeless and the poor begin their scramble for papers

Updated: Jan 11, 2020, 07:46 IST | Arita Sarkar | Mumbai

Even as the student protests against the Citizenship Act rage across the country, a lack of clarity among common people is wreaking havoc in the city. A ground report.

Pavement dwellers in Vakola say they never needed documents before
Pavement dwellers in Vakola say they never needed documents before

While opposition to the Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA) and the National Register of Citizens (NRC) grows across the country, there are also growing concerns among people over arranging documents. Be it those who lost their papers or those who have never had birth certificates made, all are scared of not being able to prove their citizenship and many are rushing to get their documents in order.

Watching news bulletins on various TV channels was enough to make 55-year-old Kamathipura resident Kausar Begam rush to get her husband's documents in order. All her efforts, however, have failed since she doesn't know her husband's birth date. "My husband was born in Dongri in the early 1960s. My mother-in-law died while giving birth to him and no one in the family knows his birth date. We hear about these detention camps and we don't want to take any chances. But the BMC won't issue a birth certificate without the month and date of birth," she said.

Kausar Begum with family
Kausar Begum with family

With little clarity on CAA's implementation, people are worried about which documents would be accepted. Like Uday Mohite, 44, many residents of Kannamwar Nagar in Vikhroli migrated from rural Maharashtra. They never needed documentation back in the village. "I was born in 1976. Back then, they didn't issue birth certificates in our village. I have a voter ID and an Aadhaar card but with all the mistakes in them, there is a good chance my documents may not be accepted. What will I do then? I have never stepped out of this country. And yet I will have to prove my citizenship?" said Mohite, who moved from Ratnagiri in 1992.

'Don't know what to do'
It gets worse for pavement-dwellers. More than 50 such people live on the pavement in Vakola. They came from Marathwada in the early 1980s and many of them lost their documents along the way.

Narmada Gangadhar Kakade
Narmada Gangadhar Kakade

Narmada Gangadhar Kakade, 60, claims she has been living on the pavement for decades. "Police and BMC burned our documents and clothes when they chased us out of our home. Some of us still have our ration cards but most of us have no documents. People have told us about the government's new system but we don't know what to do," she said, adding that most of her neighbours are rag pickers and a couple of lucky ones work as maids.

Clueless citizens have approached various NGOs, one such organisation being Ghar Banao Ghar Bachao Andolan. "People are scared and angry. Documents were lost in the 2005 floods, the Mantralaya fire and it takes months to re-issue a birth certificate. How can the government decide people's fate with CAA in a country which has such poor standards of record-keeping?" said Bilal Khan from the organisation.

Hozefa Rajkotwala lost his family's papers in a fire
Hozefa Rajkotwala lost his family's papers in a fire

Issues over birth certificates will particularly affect those who are aged over 60. Ilyas Shaikh was five years old when his family moved to Mumbai from Rae Bareilly. "My grandfather was a railway employee and for the past few days, we have been discussing which relatives to reach out to who can help source any documents. My parents don't have any documents," said Shaikh. He lives in Shivaji Nagar, Govandi with his parents, wife and six children.

'Govt should be creating jobs'
"We elected the new government to get people jobs, end corruption and bring development. Instead of focusing on that, the government is asking us to prove our loyalty to our country. They were not concerned about our loyalty when they came to ask for our votes," said 36-year-old Sama Parveen, another resident.

Uday Mohite, a resident of Kannamwar Nagar, Vikhroli
Uday Mohite, a resident of Kannamwar Nagar, Vikhroli

It's not just the poor, but also the rest who are struggling for papers. Hozefa Rajkotwala, 43, lost his family's valuable documents after a fire broke out in the building where his shop is located in Kamathipura last week. The CAA and the National Population Register (NPR) prompted Rajkotwala to digitise his family's documents. "I gathered all papers, including those of our grandparents from the pre-independence era. I had brought everything to the shop to scan them. But most of them were burnt in the fire and others were damaged during the firefighting operation," he said. The documents he lost included passports, ration cards, birth certificates, bank account papers and original share certificates.

How to get birth certificate?

To get a birth certificate, an applicant must fill a birth form (with a search fee of R2) and submit it at the local ward office. Health Department officials look for the entry in their records, including the hospital registration book. Those who were born at home and not in a hospital must submit an application in court with supporting documents. They must also submit affidavits filed by family members. After verification by the ward office's health department, the court issues a birth certificate.

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