The Year is around 1964, Jawaharlal Nehru is the prime minister of India. India is reeling under Inflation and has borrowed so much that nobody will lend her any money. Droughts and the Wars have made the nation weary. Jobs are few and far between and most people are still dependent on the Governments socialist mentality to bail out the economy and shine a light on how the poor can escape their hardships. Elsewhere a young man, the eldest on 10 children living in what can only be called a mud brick house with a thatched roof is getting desperate. Things are looking too good as can be expected when a family has 10 children.
He hears of job opportunities in factories in the Middle East, the recent discovery of Oil and its new found wealth has spurred nation building among what was previously warring nomadic clans. But anything is better than staying back and so he heads to the passport office. But there is a problem. This young man is all of 16 going on 17. He isn’t going to get a passport and he knows it. In the grand scheme of things I guess you can’t fault him after all desperate times call for desperate measures. He walked in confidently into the passport office I believe it was in another state Kolkata if I remember correctly. The language barrier between his Malayalam and the passport officers Bengali was overcome using a combination of English, Hindi and sign language. As he looked up and down the queue at the throng of young men looking just as desperate as him I assume he felt a sense of kinship.
Finally, after hours of waiting it was his turn. He had to take the help of a school teacher back in his village to fill up his passport application and now he was going to face the biggest challenge yet. With barely the wisp of a bread he had to convince a total stranger he was 18 so that he could leave the country and somehow earn and provide for his family. The Passport agent was clearly aware this guy isn’t old enough and had a choice to make. Reject and report the young man or look into his eyes and see the circumstances that led him to this point and give the guy a new lease on life.
That young man is my father.
The Year is 2019. Narendra Modi is the Prime Minister of India. India is stuck in a global recession brought on by trade wars and nationalist politics. The GDP is slowing down and the country is rocked by the banking sector facing one scam after the other. People losing their life savings and even their life in some cases. The rich are getting richer and the poor and middle class poorer. This time nobody is expecting the Govt. to bail the middle class or poor out. Capitalism is facing the consequences of its support for politics it barely understands. A single father in his late 30s is staring at the Passport Seva website and enthralled at how far things have progressed thanks to Digital India. Across the nation public services are being digitized in an effort to ensure subsidies are not rerouted to corrupt individuals. He fills ups the form as he applies for a passport for his daughter. Being tech savvy and aware of the special circumstances of the application he combs through the website to make sure he hasn’t missed anything. After all she has to miss class and wait in a queue for hours when her appointment is scheduled. He decides life is difficult enough as it is without him missing some crucial document causing a repeat of the whole experience.
They walk in to the passport office at the scheduled time after navigating a spur of the moment decision by the civic body to implement bus lanes. Yet they manage to reach on time and the guy walk up to the counter and submits the documents (fingers crossed). The lady at the counter glances over the documents asks a few questions and issues a token. The first hurdle is cleared. Their hopes rise. Next they walk into a small cubicle where a friendly gentleman awaits. He take a photo and collects the money and directs the two to the next counter. A lady who looks like she is close to retirement goes over the documents and the originals without a word. Ticks a few places and send them on to the next counter. This is the last step the father and daughter are excited and already planning their next vacation. She has always wanted to go Pune (she hasn’t learnt geography yet). As they wait he explains why Pune doesn’t need a passport and what a visa is etc.
The last counter is occupied by a lady, she looks tired for 10:45 AM. Guess she isn’t well. She glances over the forms and then stares at her monitor before saying I can’t approve this application. For a moment he feels he didn’t hear it right. The lady repeats herself as she explains that she needs to see a court order proving he has custody of the child. A form “Annexure C” which is meant for such circumstances is shown to her explaining the other parent is unwilling to give consent and the father takes responsibility. The only thing that was required as per the Passport Seva Website (guess they haven’t digitized everything).
The man was me and this is the cyborg I met last week.
The lady was so terrified to approve an application because a machine had a checkbox that she needed to tick and she wasn’t sure what the process was. Naturally we didn’t get the passport. She left in tears.
We have finally reached a time when a judgement call has been replaced by if else logic in a piece of code written by a developer who probably doesn’t have children managed by project manager who is probably on the waiting list of H1B1 visa himself for a Govt trying to promote efficiency by implementing technology in a way that removes humanity from the Term “Public Service”. For all intents the Lady was just a peripheral to a desktop. Robotically clicking buttons as she fetched the next item from the array (I mean queue).
While my story might not be very relatable I am sure you have experienced a flavor of something similar e.g. I have chatted and clicked buttons on Amazon.co.in website for the last few days trying to return a product that was delivered in bad condition. The current tally in 15 SMS and emails but no returned products. Far as I am concerned the machines have Won and the war that hasn’t even begun yet.