December 13, 2016

It's easier to get a divorce than to renew a minor's passport post-divorce!

I read a post on The Wire about the humiliation women face when they want to remove their spouse's name from their passports after going through a divorce. I went through a similar experience while renewing my minor child's passport after having gone through a divorce.

The Passport Seva site is quite well organised with links to most bits of information such as required documents, appointment dates, and Passport Rules and Acts among others. It lets one upload all their documents ahead of time, pay online and schedule an appointment as well. What it also unfortunately does, is trick one into believing that the rest of the process will be as smooth.

There are three stages to the passport application process of which the first two are 'outsourced'. IT service professionals verify, scan, snap and file away all the necessary documentation before one can move on to meet the passport officials from the government. While they are efficient at what they are trained to do, they are unaware of the formalities that the passport process itself mandates, especially in cases like mine--single parent who is also sole custodian of two children. In non-legalese, this means that my children will not need their father to sign off on their passport application--which is a standard process otherwise followed--because he had waived off his rights as their custodian after our divorce. There is a form, Annexure G, that is specifically for this purpose and I had this at the ready as well.

Armed with everything, I made it through the first two stages with not as much difficulty as immense delays. Glad to see my token number flash, my joy was short-lived. It was that particular passport officer's lunch time, but he couldn't reassign me to another officer as it wasn't protocol. After a 45-minute wait, he came back, asked for my documents and went through them cursorily until he reached Annexure G. He looked up at me and said, "You're divorced?" and I said, "Yes." "The father is not a custodian at all?" "No, he's chosen not to be." With a puzzled expression, he asked to see the divorce petition where this is explicitly stated, but he was still not convinced. He asked more questions about the details clearly stated in the petition, even though it wasn't his place to do so. Finally, he returned all the documents and reassigned me to another official who, supposedly, had some experience handling cases like mine. Murphy's Law or what have you, but it turned out to be his lunch time as well when it was my turn to meet him.

So another 45 minutes went by, and a conversation similar to the one with official one happened upon his return from lunch, but he made some notes in the system and told me to meet the Assistant Passport Officer (APO). So there I was, in line for the third time in a span of 3 hours, waiting to meet the APO. Luckily, she didn't go to lunch when it was my turn, but the conversation turned out to be much the same. I had wrongly hoped that a woman might empathise, but I felt judged at every stage of all those conversations which finally ended in her saying that she couldn't authorise the renewal and that I had to meet the Regional Passport Officer (RPO) in Koramangala who would take the final call on this.

By this time, I was livid. I had been in line with my 6 year old since 9 am. It was 3 pm and we had nothing to show for it except three annoying conversations and a cranky child. And I had all documents down to a T! If the outsourced folks had been better briefed, I could've been on my way out soon as the picture and biometrics stage was finished, saving me about 4.5 hours! I had no choice but to leave the Passport Seva Kendra that day, set up an appointment with the RPO for another day, go through this entire rigmarole of explanations one more time until the passport was finally granted. But it didn't end there. At the police verification, I had to explain all this one more time while the policeman in charge talked to his colleague in Kannada about my divorce when all he was supposed to do was to verify the address.

This was more than a year ago and now, unfortunately, it's time for me to renew my other child's passport. I'm telling myself that I should expect nothing. After all, a year isn't much time for any change, is it? If anything, a process change is possible but a systemic change? Hah!

I hope Part two of this post has a happier ending. 

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