Monday, 10 August 2015

The bureaucracy of a stolen passport

When friends at home warned me of the bureaucracy in India I would just nod, fully expecting to never have to face the Indian legal system, I was, after all, not planning on doing anything wrong. However, one moment of distraction in Delhi left me without my wallet and therefore no passport, visa, driving licence or credit card. The Western part of me wanted to get everything done as quickly as possible, however, as I quickly found the Indian ‘no problem’ mentality works in precisely the opposite way.

Throughout my various visits to the embassy and registration offices it has seemed that my lack of passport is one of their last concerns. Many other factors have been more of a discussion to them, for example how much my tuc-tuc cost to get to the police station, the wording of the letter from the embassy (It was addressed ‘Dear Sir’ which they didn’t like), and finally the fact that I was not Irish, have all proved to be talking points as my documents were checked and disputed at every stage.

My first port of call was the police station to log the complaint and receive a document to then take to the embassy. Arriving at the police station was a slight shock in itself. The main desk is right next to a police cell, complete with toilet, open to the entire waiting room; to the cell’s side is the ‘women’s counselling area’- a concrete bench, again completely open to the entire room. This part of the process was the most frustrating, the combination of the police talking across me due to my being female and accompanied by a male, and the language barrier meant that it took 3 hours for one piece of paper to be printed.

After this it was off to the embassy to get my emergency documents, where I found that they had omitted to tell me that I would have to pay £95; queue a desperate call to my mother at 5am UK time begging for money. Proudly in possession of my little gold booklet I felt that all was done and I could relax, but it was far from over.

The other problem that happens when your wallet is stolen is that your money goes missing along with it. My parents sent money, but, no matter how shady Western Union’s reputation is they still are not so keen when a white girl lacking in both a passport and visa, (I presume I must have looked like an illegal immigrant by this point) asks for money to be handed over. My organisation before my trip paid off and the copy of my passport and visa were accepted, and photocopied for me another couple of times just for good measure.

The last document needed for me to travel back to the UK was an exit permit, something provided at the Foreign Registration Office. Unfortunately I didn’t realise I had booked an appointment with the Dharamsala office, and so turned up at the office in Delhi when it was closed. The soldier (With a very large gun strapped to his back) told me I couldn’t go in and seemed very confused when he saw my appointment was indeed booked for the Saturday. A cleaner from the office then called a man, who turned up on his motorcycle, soaking wet from the monsoon rain who then explained to me that I had not booked an appointment with them and that I would have to travel back to Naddi. This man was taking none of my nonsense, made clear when he told me ‘madam you need to calm down, I can’t understand you when you cry’. Having had the process explained to me I was feeling better, and now well in to the Indian mind set that because I wasn’t leaving the country for another 2 months it didn’t really matter whether or not I had papers to board a plane.

Finally I travelled back to the Dharamsala office, where I was told that I would not be given papers until two weeks before I travelled, as they needed to give me police clearance before I left the country. Something that could not yet be granted as I still have time to go on a massive crime spree before my flight. After yet more photocopies of documents being taken I was told I had to go and speak to their boss, an appointment that I felt may have had some important use, however, it was just me going to exchange pleasantries with an army general, and his commenting on my lack of Irish accent (I still am unsure why they thought I was Irish). So, with a wobble of the head and another confirmation that it was ‘no problem’ I am still in India, still it seems to me with out a visa but apparently with no upcoming problems to prevent my returning to the UK.

Although a hassle, the experience has made me more understanding of just how India works, and how in a country with a distinct lack of Internet and electricity everything will get sorted, it all just takes a bit more time. What it all comes down to in the end though is that there will always be someone there who will try and help you, even if you cant understand a word they are saying.

Rachel's new passport 

P.S. The day after I finished writing this I had a call from the embassy. Someone had handed in my wallet (Money gone) but with passport, card and driving license still inside. Unfortunately because I acted so quickly my passport and card have been cancelled and so I cannot use them, but I can still recover my licence and will have my passport cut and sent to my home, which means I have the more sentimental part of the stamps and visas I have collected. I know they will never read this but I am eternally grateful for their kindness, and for the assistance and concern I have received from everyone who has helped me.

Rachel Parry - UK 
Microfinance project manager, Punjab

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