Akkamma sounded agitated on the phone. She was calling up 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 my colleague Poshini to calm her down and get to understand the problem.
Akkamma is a Soliga tribal from Bavikere in Karnataka, and is a leading member of the women's self help group facilitated by Swami Vivekananda Youth Movement (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 a Below Poverty Line (BPL) card that gave her the right to get 29 kgs of food grains each month.
These people do not interpret poverty as living with less than a dollar or two a day. Nor do they see development coming through as a Government intervention to augment their daily income alone. (Picture credit: SVYM)
Akkamma was thoroughly confused. In her own simplistic way, she had called up Poshini wanting to know why someone from her own village or a nearby village could not do this, and how could someone not known to her at all prove and establish her identity. Akkamma's question is indeed profound. All that she wanted to know was how the government could trust an 'Affidavit' purchased for Rs.100, but 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 mean 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 were a poor illiterate (but profoundly intelligent) indigenous
tribal women? 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?