Journalist, likes people-watching, no-DSLR shutterbug, revels in the absurd and the nutty, loves books, blogs, travel, food, and tries not to be a cantankerous customer.

Sravanthi C

People-watching at an Aadhaar camp

| Updated on October 29, 2013

People throng an Aadhaar camp to get their biometric data recorded. File photo

Recently, we found out that an Aadhaar camp was on at a school in our vicinity. This was Phase II. Over three years ago, some surveyors had visited us and given us a receipt to be presented at the centre carrying out this work. Despite all the conflicting information about it, the Supreme Court hearings and the concerns about privacy, we went - we had not researched it enough and the talk of its link to facilities such as gas connections was frightening enough to make us line up for one.

A few years ago, our gas connection was cancelled because we did not order a refill within six months. We had not used up the cylinder. (We didn’t know about the six-month rule, and who knew fuel conservation was not appreciated?) During that time, a ration card was mandatory to get a gas connection. Our gas agency refused to accept our passports or voter ID cards as proof of identity. (On the latter, our names and addresses were mangled, anyway.) We did not have the ration card and had to use influence merely to get information about the process and apply. It was bedlam. An enraged old man, cloth bag in hand, was descending the stairs and roaring that he would hack everyone into pieces for putting him through the wringer. Soon after, the Government announced that ration cards were not mandatory for this purpose.

I have to say the Aadhaar enrolment was smoother, given that it took only two hours of waiting despite only one person working there. The person at the other desk had left for lunch and not returned. His colleague said he was new and she did not have his phone number. There were about six people in the queue ahead of us. The penny dropped fairly soon that each person represented at least three others in his/her family. Soon, the line grew longer. The absent official showed no signs of coming back and his hapless colleague was doing a sterling job of ignoring questions and complaints and getting on with her work.

Families came in and surveyed the scene. Some shook their heads and left. By now, the crowd had swelled. Angry chatter filled the room as people who had been coming there for days wanted to be heard – one had not got the print-out issued at the end of the process, another’s name had been spelt wrong, another had a clarification to seek … the lady officiating there ruthlessly ignored everyone and single-mindedly continued photographing and fingerprinting those in the queue. She probably could not have functioned otherwise, a thick skin was vital to get on with the job. But it was impossible to overlook one’s own needs and feelings. Why is this scene repeated every single time we have to go about something which involves a government department? Rarely can we get what we want without being turned away rudely, told our documentation is inadequate or wrong, waiting endlessly and in vain, and feeling toxic with fury and helplessness.

Meanwhile, a fight broke out between someone who tried to jump the queue and the rest of the crowd. Then the computer packed up for a while. A lady who said she had retired as an executive/officer at the Secretariat kept saying scornfully that she was “the one who had issued the orders for all these people to be employed in the Aadhaar project”. On and off, she implored the young men in the crowd to go and take up the Aadhaar work on the absconding official’s computer. A man who had started yelling 10 minutes earlier continued to do so without any let-up. Amidst the tumult, some people being enrolled got confused and failed to identify mistakes even when they were asked to check.

We were glad to get out of this tower, well, room, of babel. And now begins the wait to receive yet another proof of identity. Next, I have to steel myself for passport renewal. But that’s two years away and hopefully, things will improve.

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Published on October 29, 2013
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