Dressed in a sari, 61-year-old Varini sits on a plastic stool on the footpath outside the Kochi Municipal Corporation office. She bent over her table – made of wooden crates – filling out forms. Behind her, is an umbrella tied to a short pole.
“I can fill the longest form – marriage certificate applications – in 20 minutes. Other forms can be completed in ten minutes,” Varini says. She was one of the first women to take up work in Cochin, and now sits right next to the entrance gate.
“I am paid, but poorer people say they don’t have much to give. I understand their pain. I could not earn much with this work, but I was able to meet my expenses and raise my children. We did not live in poverty,” she says.
Through all this, the wooden crate and umbrella tied to a short pole behind her were her constant companions. “Whether it is sun or rain, we have to work. Fish sellers and other street vendors work in the open. At least we have the luxury to sit quietly and write,” she says.
Varini is one of many writers working outside the Corporation office in Kochi. Their services are hired by many people including literates who do not want to take a chance while filling their forms. The writers offer their expertise for everything: Birth Certificate, Death Certificate, Marriage Certificate, Property Certificates, building permissions and more.
Most of the writers say that the marriage certificates are ones that are most popular. They charge Rs 50 per form. The lowest remuneration they get is Rs 20, for some applications that do not have more than three or four categories to fill. Each day, they fill between 30 and 50 forms, and get to their ‘office’ much before the government offices open. A typical working day begins at 9 am on the footpath and they leave at about 5 pm.
There’s a similar scene out at the Thiruvananthapuram Corporation too. 55-year-old Rajalekshmi has been working in front of the Thiruvananthapuram Corporation office after her father’s death seven years ago.
“I had to look after my family. Since I was unmarried, I alone had to take care of everything. That’s when I started working here,” she explains.
On average, she gets between 20-30 customers, sometimes more. What she does is a thankless job. “We usually get Rs 20 or Rs 30 for filling up applications. Some give us more, others bargain and pay us very less, so it’s a struggle. If some writers charge more, officials will come and shout at us. Sometimes, officials shoo us away,” she says.
Rajalekshmi has passed Class 10, but Balan, who works alongside her, says that some of the writers are degree holders. “We believe that every job has its dignity. Everyone in Kerala knows how to read and write but they still approach us for applications, because we know what to do,” Balan says. In Balan’s case, he has followed in his father's footsteps. He is now in his 35th year on the job.
“Lots of poor people approach us to fill in applications, there we also become a part in granting them their rights,” Balan says.
Perhaps they would have done more good, had they managed to get the government jobs that many of them wanted.
All Photos : Sreekesh Raveendran Nair