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An identity for Akkamma

July 13, 2010

Akkamma sounded agitated on the phone. She wanted to know why she had to go through the process of being identified and declared as ‘Akkamma’ by someone who did not know who she was. It took a while for Poshini* to calm her down and get to understand the problem.

Akkamma was a Jenukuruba from Bavikere tribal colony and was a leading member of the women’s self help group facilitated by SVYM. She and her fellow members of the group were recently trained in the basic concepts of food security, entitlements and the Public Distribution System (PDS). She now knew that her family was entitled to highly subsidized food grains and she was eligible for an Antyodaya PDS card that gave her the right to get 29 kg of food grains each month.

She spent more than 60 rupees to go to Heggadadevanakote, the taluk headquarters. On meeting the concerned officials, she was told that she had to produce an affidavit establishing her identity as Akkamma from Bavikere village. She neither understood what this meant nor how someone in this town more than 30 km from her village could confirm her identity. She was told that a Notary could certify and give an affidavit to this effect.

Akkamma was thoroughly confused. In her own simplistic way, she had called up Poshini wanting to know why someone from her village or nearby was not entitled to do this and how could someone not known to her at all prove and establish her identity. Akkamma’s question was indeed profound. All that she wanted to know was how the Government could trust an ‘affidavit’ purchased for Rs.100 and not take her word that she was indeed who she claimed herself to be. She wanted to know how her identity was not based on who she was but on the word of someone who was paid to tell who she was. Was this the price of citizenship? I was left wondering whether any of us would ever understand what ‘entitlements’ truly meant to people like Akkamma? How do we come to terms with some of the meaningless and convoluted procedures that the State has evolved to provide services to its citizenry? Isn’t the ‘trust’ that a Government should have in people like Akkamma also an ‘entitlement’? Would it have been different if she had not been a poor illiterate (but profoundly intelligent) indigenous tribal woman? Does the identity of who we are flow from our own sense of ‘self’ or from what the Government through its agents and processes determine us to be?

Will any of us ever be able to provide an answer to Akkamma?

*Poshini is the head of the Community Development Services sector of SVYM and works intimately with the tribals of H.D.Kote