Thoughts & Ideas

Thursday, July 30, 2009

In Search of an Identity

I had hoped that thanks to the initiative of the present UPA government and the efforts of Nandan Nilekani I would finally have a provable identity as an Indian – something I have been desperately searching for at least the last 2 decades. However, reading a remark said to have been made by Mr. Nilekani that the UIN (Unique Identification Number) would be linking identity to place of residence makes me feel that this hope of mine is also well on the way of being shattered.

Having lived an extremely peripatetic existence over my nearly 50 years on this planet, the concept of place of permanent residence is something which is wholly foreign to me. I know that ethnically I am a Bihari Kayastha – but my identity stops there. My father was in a transferable job and so was his father. And to carry the family tradition a little farther, I have a tendency of not only getting transferred off and on, but also occasionally switching jobs. The end result is that there is nowhere I can call home.

When I was much younger the sense of identity was provided by referring to a remote village in Bihar which I had never visited – village Kumbhaila, Thana Piro, Zilla Bhojpur, Bihar. My grandfather had left this village sometime in the early nineteen hundreds, never to return to live there, though contact was maintained during his and my father’s life time. None of my immediate relatives lived there during the time I was growing up (have I stopped growing up now?). Much later I finally had the proud distinction of having visited “my” village once – but that is a different story altogether.

Then for a long time, home used to be my mother’s house in Banaras where she settled down after my father’s demise. But with her death that option is also no more available. Moreover, even though the house, the electricity connection, the phone connection, or the municipal taxes were in her name I could not show it as proof of “my” identity. The irony being that most of these expenses were paid by me.

I do not lack many of the numerous pieces of paper and plastic which defines a person’s existence in India. But unfortunately all of them do not add up to any kind of real identification. I have a passport which gives my permanent address of the rented flat in Bangalore which I vacated 7 years ago. I have a driving licence which was issued in Chapra and renewed in Hyderabad and carries the address of another rented flat. My PAN card does not have an address. I have a few bank accounts - each lists the address of the place where I lived when I opened the account. But I along with life have moved on with time from each of these addresses. I presently do not have a fixed telephone line in India. And I don't remember ever having that fixer of all problems – a ration card, but I am sure that I do not have a voter id card (though I had once registered as a voter in Bangalore and also voted in a Parliamentary election).

It is not easy living this kind of existence. For example, 3 years ago I wanted to change my address registered with my demat participant. I was told that to do so I need to submit a Proof of Address (POA) as stipulated by SEBI. Now SEBI in all its wisdom has issued a 2 page circular listing all the various pieces of evidence which qualify as “Proof of Address”. But poor me failed on all the tests of Proof of Address. It was difficult to explain to anyone how or why I did not possess a single required evidence (from a very long list) of Proof of Addresses. The end result is that for the last 3 years I have no idea as to the status of my equity investments. And I thought that SEBI’s main aim was investor protection.

I hope that Mr. Nilekani’s efforts would not lead to the situation reaching a point where I would not be able to prove to anyone that I am me, even to myself.