Kagaz Dikhayenge? What Happens When You Don’t Have Documents?
Rather than wade into the current uninformed shouting matches about Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) and National Register of Citizens (NRC), Moneylife readers prefer an informed view. So, let us take the road less travelled and think this through using an example. 
 
(Just a note: Whatever we discuss about NRC here, refers to an ideal NRC. In whatever form the NRC is announced, it can never be same as NRC of Assam.
 
The Assam NRC is totally different concept with a different issue, for which historical context is necessary. Those who want to start at NRC of Assam, must first read the historical context. So, the discussion below is for an ideal NRC.
 
Imagine you are government officer of a country, say Hungary, and a person, approaches you saying she is Angela Bennett and she has no documents, but she is a citizen. You have to determine if she is or she is not a citizen. If you want to know whether the person before you is a citizen, you have to put two sets of queries.
 
The First Question: Who Are You?
 
That will be the first question you ask Angela. When asked officially, this question has a particular meaning. You have to determine, if the person before you IS ACTUALLY Angela Bennett. You are determining her identity. There are various documents to prove identity, a school identity card, company identity card, or driving licence. These documents are nothing but references of institutions that (should) have validated the person’s identity.
 
What if She Has No Documents?
 
As a helpful government officer of Hungary, you will ask Angela for her address and show her photo to residents there to determine if the photo is that of Angela or not. Once you have determined that she is actually Angela Bennett (her identity), the next step follows.
 
Proving Citizenship
 
Once identity is established, you have to determine if Angela is actually a citizen or not. This is determined by checking if Angela Bennett figures in government approved databases such as hospital birth records, birth and death registry, voter list, or passport issued lists.
 
To determine citizenship, you will access her information records through computerised government databases. Then you will verify if the information (a) that she provides; (b) information that her identifiers provide and (c) her information in the government database ALL tally together. If yes, then voila! She is the citizen Angela Bennett.
 
What if This Were in India?
 
In India, the problem is multi-fold. First, there are many non-hospital births, then many hospitals do not keep proper records, records are damaged or inaccessible.
 
Further, a government office in one part of the country cannot access government records from other parts of the country. Therefore, the burden of providing a certificate to show that your name appears in a government record falls on the person who has to obtain it. 
So, in India, Angela will have to provide a certificate from the place where she was born or where she went to school.
 
The next step is to verify if the records of the person actually exist in the place she says they do. So, if Angela appears in Delhi saying her school is in Hyderabad, someone needs to verify if that school actually has Angela’s name in their records. This part, as passport-holders know, is police verification. 
 
So how do the police verify details if you have no documentary record to verify? Police use the age-old India system of hawala. The hawala system (different from scam) implies that some prominent person vouches for you. At village level, the panchs vouch for you. This grants you citizenship. Thus, so long as people without documents were getting passports, so will they get registered in NRC.
 
The United States of America, in the 1800s, was a large country with difficulty to verify disconnected records. They also had a similar system where a parish priest or the Sheriff would identify persons.
 
Modern Indian System
 
In the modern system, Aadhaar provides one form of identification. But it is not a proof of citizenship. You have to go through documentary verification process. If there is a central database it will be possible to quickly and efficiently determine if you are a citizen or not.
 
That database is the registry of citizens in every country. Whether this is the function of India’s NRC is not clear as no details of NRC have been announced. 
 
An ideal NRC will give you a number, similar to Aadhaar, which can be used to verify your credentials as a citizen. NRC will prove decisive for determining certain rights—for example, voting or determining eligibility for government benefits. 
 
This registry concept is similar in almost all developed countries. However, some countries have used this registry innovatively, e.g., Estonian government, a beacon for e-governance and citizens privacy, uses the population registry to protect  information of its citizens.
 
Determining Citizenship is important
 
At any given point, a country has the following types of people. Citizens, who belong to that country; legal residents, who live long term in that country on a work visa; legal but friendly aliens, who are usually tourists or in-transit passengers; illegal aliens who have come to the country without a record; AND enemy aliens, who are illegal aliens from countries which are not friendly with the host country. 
 
In general, when you approach the government, they assume you are a legal resident of the country. Most laws that are applicable to citizens are also applicable to legal residents, and legal aliens. Many (not most) laws are also applicable to illegal but friendly aliens. Almost none is applicable to illegal enemy aliens. So, determining if the person before the government is a citizen, alien, friendly alien, and enemy alien is part of the job of government.
 
Depending on what you are asking from the government, they seek a relevant scale of proof. For example, if you are asking for a water connection (right to life), mere residential proof suffices. If you ask for a driving licence (right to drive), your identity is sufficient. If you are asking for voting card (right to vote) or a passport, citizenship proof is required. If you are asking for a subsidy or state benefits, you need citizenship proof AND proof that you are entitled to the subsidy or benefit. Readers will note that an escalating scale of proof is required. 
 
Norway, till 1980s, would assign naturalised citizens a number starting with 9, creating a distinction. That’s because, in developed countries, there used to be different rights (stated or unstated) for different classes of citizens. Now, most developed countries have removed the distinction. However, it is coming back in some countries as their population ages. So, UK and US are considering giving citizenship to people, who will not get access to healthcare and other benefits for certain period of time (say 10-15 years). 
 
In India, all citizens have the same rights (or no rights as cynics will say). So, an Adnan Sami, immigrant from Pakistan and now a naturalised citizen, enjoys the same rights as the rest of us, citizens.
 
In Sum
 
The current system in India is quite haphazard. It is a wonder that we do not have a population registry till date. This registry should have been established in the 1950s itself.
 
Let us ensure that registry is able to create benefits for citizens in terms of privacy and security. So Kagaz is necessary unless we want government to use facial and gait recognition! 
 
[Watch the 1995 movie called “The Net” where Sandra Bullock plays “Angela Bennett”, a person whose identity is stolen, and she does not have any documents and needs to establish her identity (not citizenship).]
 
(Rahul Prakash Deodhar is an Advocate, Bombay High Court. He can be reached at [email protected], on twitter at @rahuldeodhar or at his website www.rahuldeodhar.com. The views expressed here are those of the author and not necessarily those of Moneylife)
Comments
Aditya G
2 years ago
Good write up
nadeem
2 years ago
Will there be equal treatment of all those who could not prove their citizenship?
Can any government give citizenship to non-Muslims from the three countries and deny it to non-Muslims from our own country?
Government should seriously consider other options to take action against illegal immigrants instead of putting to trouble all its 'citizens '.
Ashish Bal Dikshit
2 years ago
Excellent article and very well explained. 👍🏻👍🏻
Vaidya Dattatraya Vasudeo
Replied to Ashish Bal Dikshit comment 2 years ago
Yes. I do agree.
Prashant
2 years ago
Just for argument sake, if the exercise results in say just 10 lac people from illegal alien nation / or whatever.
a) Will any other government accept them?
b) What will Indian government do with them then - keep in detention camps - at whose expense? Today these people are sustaining themselves. Tomm, we (other citizens) will end up funding their food and shelter
c) Aadhar after 10 years, still has glitches. This new exercise will take decades to streamline.
We want to be perfect - have bullet trains / NRC / tallest statue in the world - without seeing the cost vs benefits.
KALPESH PRAVINCHANDRA SHAH
Replied to Prashant comment 2 years ago
"What will Indian government do with them then - keep in detention camps - at whose expense? Today these people are sustaining themselves."

Following your suggestion - lets open the borders and let everyone come in

"We want to be perfect - have bullet trains / NRC / tallest statue in the world - without seeing the cost vs benefits. "

I mean - why do chandrayan, mars mission. This idiotic argument will not die.
Vaidya Dattatraya Vasudeo
Replied to Prashant comment 2 years ago
So what is your suggestion? What should we do with illegal immigrants?
nadeem
Replied to Prashant comment 2 years ago
Second that.
Harinee Mosur
Replied to Prashant comment 2 years ago
Very valid point raised.
Harinee Mosur
2 years ago
What is the point of Aadhar? If the previous govt had been honest in Aadhar issuance we wouldnt need NRC. And as a salaried person I have PAN,Aadhar, Passport and as if that is not enough Fastag, why should I be inconvenienced again for NRC, why can't govt use my Passport details or PAN details to record my existence as a citizen?
Ashish Bal Dikshit
Replied to Harinee Mosur comment 2 years ago
Where is it written that after holding a passport u will go through the entire exercise. There are so many Indians who don’t have Passport but survive on subsidies.
Vaidya Dattatraya Vasudeo
Replied to Ashish Bal Dikshit comment 2 years ago
I agree with Ashish. I feel that there should have been an exercise for a unique id for every person right from 1950. When I discussed this with some people decades ago, I was told with this population it is not possible. It is not true. China could do it with a much larger population. Even now all documents, PAN. Driving Licence, Ration Card, Voter's card, should be merged with Aadhar Card, an identity that is difficult to duplicate. I believe the criminals will be most reluctant to get Aadhar Card as their biometric data is easily searchable. We should ensure that every person who is in prison, must have an Aadhar Card before he leaves the prison, and that is true for every person who wants to contest any election, or who wants to fight any case in the Court of Law. I am always surprised to see people who have visited the US, taking objection to submitting the same or much less information to our own Government
AMIT KUMAR
2 years ago
A sincere government would eliminate the communal angle altogether if it were serious about the population register. People are opposing the NRC not without reasons but the "my way or the highway" attitude coupled with lack of literacy among the people in power renders all the discussions of the kind such as in this article pretty much useless.
KALPESH PRAVINCHANDRA SHAH
Replied to AMIT KUMAR comment 2 years ago
"eliminate the communal angle"

How is it communal? Do you know which set of people are making it such?
AMIT KUMAR
Replied to AMIT KUMAR comment 2 years ago
"Moneylife readers prefer an informed view"---that's a problem with the "informed" people. They don't focus on the actual issues.
AMIT KUMAR
Replied to AMIT KUMAR comment 2 years ago
India is losing enormous diplomatic capital and will soon start to lose enormous monetary capital as well.
Suketu Shah
2 years ago
If no one is a proven India citizen,why are we paying taxes since last 7 decades?
KAMLESH JHA
Replied to Suketu Shah comment 2 years ago
Any person who earn, have to pay tax, citizenship don't have anything to do with that. Even to get PN card you don't need to be a person, a company can too get PAN and pay tax....Thanks
Sandeep More
2 years ago
The intentions are very good, however the implementation always proves to be chaotic and with errors. eg. My voting card carries a wrong address and a new Surname has been attached to my name. I tried to rectify the errors made by the hounourable Govt servants and the same was done at the local level but not yet authorised by the high and mighty of the Election Commiserate without which the changes will not be affected. 3 years passed, various online complaints not even acknowledged. Even the MyGov App proved to be ineffective. I have to travel by train from my residence just to be able to vote. THIS IS THE KIND OF SERVICE THAT NOT SO LUCKY ONES LIKE ME HAVE TO ENDURE FROM THE VERY HONOURABLE AND MIGHTY GOVT SERVANTS.
Vaidya Dattatraya Vasudeo
Replied to Sandeep More comment 2 years ago
These are the problems created by the attitude of our people of not being sincere unless you are likely to be punished. So far I have submitted 5 requests for the correction of the address on my Aadhar Card. With the same documents submitted as address proof for myself, my wife and my son. We have slightly varying addresses. But I do not blame the Aadhar System. This is the way we work all across the Country.
Anil Kumar
2 years ago
Thanks for the article - first one amidst all the cacoaphony that helped to understand. But the question still remains
a) Is the goal (of perfect 1 single database) worth it, when there exists system of documents (aadhar, voter, passport, etc) to achieve different aims.
b) Is there need for new exercise, when there exists a mechanism (if someone does not have any documents) to achieve different aims? My mom did not have any document - but still had her passport made, basis a confirmation from Special Executive Magistrate and Bank passbook. That passport then led to Aadhar etc.
c) To ferrett out 2% (illegal migrants) and yet unarticulated benefits of the exercise) why does the Governments want to take the remaining 98% through the grinder, at enormous cost and trouble?
Gunalan
Replied to Anil Kumar comment 2 years ago
I would also suggest that using AI, ML technologies the system of documents be cleansed and using that as a base may be there is a way to include people who have been left out in an incremental way. For example - I wonder do all beggars in our country have even Aadhaar cards. Also there are so many social welfare schemes are run by the government , yet we see abysmal poverty around. So there are many things to fix in the government least of which is the sudden leap to NRC..
Rahul Deodhar
Replied to Anil Kumar comment 2 years ago
Please mention all your questions. I am answering some of them in upcoming articles. Will incorporate any new ones too.
Meenal Mamdani
Replied to Anil Kumar comment 2 years ago
Excellent question.
tanay
2 years ago
Perfect timing for NRC right now is it
Economy down is coincidence
CAA excluding Muslims is unrelated
Chronology samjhiye comments by Shah are unrelated
Termites will be thrown out comment unrelated
Protesters can be identified by clothes comment unrelated


NRC is just another innocent exercise being done by govt. similar to what developed countries have done many years back

Wake up buddy....intentions matter
Vaidya Dattatraya Vasudeo
Replied to tanay comment 2 years ago
Yes. We are too late. Can that be a reason for abandoning the exercise, which will have many long term benefits?
Meenal Mamdani
2 years ago
A thorough explanation of the different categories of people in a country and how one goes about placing them in one or the other category. I learnt a lot and want to thank the author.

I think the biggest hurdle in India is lack of trust. When some one tells you that this is the way to establish your identity, you immediately suspect the information because you do not know if the person giving the information has your best interests at heart.

Second hurdle is the official who a person interacts with to prove one's identity. Unless proven otherwise, officials are expected to be corrupt and untrustworthy. An illiterate, poor person is at the mercy of a two-bit official in a remote corner of the country. How does this poor person challenge an adverse ruling? Are there any repercussions for the official who accumulates a large number of challenges that have been proved valid?

There are no perfect solutions to any problem. But, if GOI wants to do a thorough and unbiased job of creating a NRC, it must think of all the possible hindrances affecting legitimate citizens and provide a way to navigate them.
Vaidya Dattatraya Vasudeo
Replied to Meenal Mamdani comment 2 years ago
I feel if it is necessary, then instead of waiting for fine-tuning it before implementation, we must start with it as best as possible and keep doing fine-tuning along the way.
Gunalan
Replied to Meenal Mamdani comment 2 years ago
Once I was listening to a debate on " How to improve our judiciary" on Rajya Sabha TV in which a retired Delhi High Court Judge was in the panel. During the discussions he made revealing remarks about the lack of judicial knowledge among Judges in different courts in our country. He mentioned a Judge who has a narrow experience in judging cases in a limited area when promoted , happens to hear case outside his expertise, it seems he keeps the hearing the case for weeks and months and gets his/her tutoring from the advocates. Thus the panel speaker was pushing for specialization among judges and allocation of specific cases based on their past experience and expertise. Now as mentioned above all kinds of "judicial officers" were the verification authorities for concluded NRC in Assam. Juxtaposed with current state of Judicial System as highlighted in the panel discussion mentioned earlier - no wonder there are serious apprehensions about the NRC itself - there is a huge gap between Policy and Implementation/ Execution in the government - many egregious examples come to mind - GST, Transmission of Banking Rate Cuts implemented by RBI by the Commercial Banks, etc...
AMITH SANNAGOWDAR
2 years ago
Short but nice explanation of scenarios
Krishnaraj
2 years ago
Well, if citizenship has not yet been established, how have folks been voting so far? Have they to be nullified? If not then why not use voter ids?

I really do not understand the purpose of this article other that to say that, yes there are so many ids, but but we need another one. It skirts the main point of why folks have been opposing it - which is the use of religion as a basis to discriminate.
Vaidya Dattatraya Vasudeo
Replied to Krishnaraj comment 2 years ago
Yes. We should merge all the data available to create a single id. At times this itself is objected to. e.g instead of saying the exercise of NRC and NPR should be merged and should be carried out using all the population data that is available, we say data collected fo NPR may be fraudulently used by the Government of NCR,. hence we have objection to NPR too.
RAEES RAJPOOT
2 years ago
EXCELLENT PIECE OF WORK
Vaidya Dattatraya Vasudeo
Replied to RAEES RAJPOOT comment 2 years ago
True.
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