Earlier this week Mubeena*’s 17-year-old younger brother threw a tantrum at home. “He got to know that his name in the birth certificate is wrong,” says Mubeena, who is a field worker with Shaheen, a non-profit working with women in Hyderabad’s Old City.
“My brother started panicking. He has been after my mother to give him money to get the name corrected,” says Mubeena, who doesn’t have a birth certificate.
Not everyone in Old City has a birth certificate; fewer women possess the document. For many who have a birth certificate, issued by the Greater Hyderabad Municipal Corporation (GHMC), either have their names misspelt or have their date of birth wrong. In the recently released National Population Register (NPR) manual for field workers, a lot of focus has been given to collect the correct date of birth, especially for women.
If one goes by what the BJP at the Centre said in the Rajya Sabha, NPR 2020 is the first step to NRC (National Register of Citizens) in the country. The Citizenship Act 1955 makes it mandatory that demographic data collected as part of NRC be cross-checked with NPR.
With protests breaking out across the nation against the combined impact of CAA-NPR-NRC on Muslims, the Centre appears to have delayed releasing rules to carry out NRC. However, the efforts to implement NPR 2020 have started and it is expected to be carried out between April and September.
What’s in a hospital?
Many women in Old City prefer to give birth at home in the presence of midwives and not at hospitals, points out Dr Roshni Samata, a former government doctor who now works with Shaheen. The doctor pins the lack of adequate documentation of birth to the poor healthcare infrastructure in Old City.
“Apart from Petlaburj maternity hospital, there are no other maternity hospitals in the area. Hospitals like Osmania, Gandhi are overloaded. There are not enough healthcare facilities proportionate to the population in Old City,” says Dr Roshni. Due to this, access to maternity care and post-maternity care has become difficult for women in Old City.
“Even if the women go to government hospitals they are mistreated by the staff, on top of that they have to bribe people,” says the doctor. “In the labour room, the woman may even end up giving birth to the child all by herself, all alone and the nurse would come after the baby cries to cut the umbilical cord. It happens… it happens in Hyderabad. So women prefer to give birth at home through known midwives,” adds Dr Roshni. Thus the children born also often end up with no birth certificates.
“There is a better chance of a woman getting maternity care and the birth getting recorded in a Telangana village, because there are dedicated health workers who submit the data to the PHCs. There are no health workers (ANMs) doing door-to-door checks in Hyderabad’s Old City,” she adds.
In the coming weeks, Shaheen hopes to take up awareness campaigns to educate the women in Old City about documentation. The non-profit is even taking help from women from Assam who struggled to furnish their documents when NPR was carried out and eventually prove their citizenship during the NRC exercise. In Assam state, NRC had declared 19 lakh Indians as non-Indians. Many are still at detention centres.
“Date of birth is one of the important items of information being collected in the NPR,” per the NPR manual for field workers (also known as enumerators), who will be doing door-to-door data collection. The NPR manual gives the public options to furnish a birth certificate, school leaving certificate, or any other relevant document like Aadhaar card, voter ID card, PAN card, passport, etc.
But for most women in Old City, apart from Aadhaar, most other documents are largely non-existent.
32-year-old Sulthana Begum is a domestic violence attack survivor. She doesn’t have a birth certificate but got a passport made through an agent. “I’m not sure what all documents he gave to get the passport made, but when the time came for renewal they asked for a lot of documents as proof. That’s when I realised my documents aren’t in order,” says Sulthana.
Much to her dismay, her name was spelt differently in her passport, Aadhaar and school leaving certificate. Her date of birth was also different in these documents. “Officials spell our name differently when we tell it to them, thus the names end up being different. I’m have lost most part of my face in a domestic violence attack. Since they can’t determine my age based on my looks, they have assumed my age,” she adds.
The NPR field worker is allowed to assume the age of a person in case the date, month, year are not known.
In such cases, an estimate is made through probing questions. “In the case of women, sometimes it becomes difficult to know the actual date of birth or age,” reads the manual. “If a woman is not aware of her age and is also unable to report the year of her birth, you will have to further probe to estimate her year of birth.” If that doesn’t work, the field worker has to rely on their wits.
Fear and panic in Old City
Anjana and Sulthana are both field workers with Shaheen and as part of their work they go door to door doing surveys. However, in their most recent field visit, they were met with resistance, with residents being apprehensive about probing questions.
“People were reluctant and those who gave us their details reached out to us asking us to delete their information from the survey. They are afraid of giving out any information; they have begun asking why we are doing the survey, what we intend to do with the information, etc. There is a genuine concern about NPR,” says Anjana, who also doesn’t have a birth certificate.
Anjana, who stays with her mother, says they lost most of their documents in the floods. “We stay in a slum that is on a lake bed. It floods every year, people lose their paper documents in the floods. During the rest of the year, the locality gets flooded with sewage water… the water enters even inside houses. We stay in rented houses and keep shifting every few years, so things often get lost while shifting houses,” she adds.
The cost of documentation
To get her birth certificate made, Anjana was asked to shell out Rs 3,500 to a MeeSeva centre as bribe while Sulthana was asked to pay Rs 4,500 as bribe. Mubeena’s brother was asked to pay Rs 5,000 at one MeeSeva centre and Rs 3,500 at another.
Unlike the Census 2021 where a citizen can choose not to give personal information, the NPR attracts a penalty of Rs 1,000 for not giving details, as answering the questions is compulsory.
“In NPR, women will suffer the most as they don’t have proper documents. Most women don’t even have a nikkah namma (marriage certificate from a mosque), and their children also don’t have documents. These women earn hardly Rs 200 per day with great difficulty, that is if they get a daily wage job,” says Jameela Nishat, the activist who runs Shaheen.
In December 2019, the standing committee of the GHMC had made it possible for the public to avail birth and death certificates from MeeSeva centres. The aim was to make the service more accessible to the public.