New Delhi: In the wake of a spate of complaints about difficulties faced by women in getting their passports issued or renewed with a changed marital status, the Ministry of External Affairs had told The Wire in July this year that all such applicants needed to do was submit an affidavit in the form of Annexure K. However, it has now come to light that filling up this form has become an additional headache for men and women alike, as it requires attestation from a first class magistrate and does not provide for self-attestation or an affidavit under oath sworn by a notary public.
The Wire original story was based on the experience of Shruti of Bhopal, who was made to take multiple rounds of the passport office and repeatedly meet the assistant passport officer just to submit her passport renewal application. All this while, she had alleged ill-treatment, saying it ranged from the demand for a “divorce deed” which is never provided by courts, as they only pass orders, to being told by passport officials that it was a “complicated case”, to being asked personal questions which had nothing to do with her application.
The ministry had answered several of The Wire‘s queries at the time. On whether the ministry had considered removing certain clauses that were inconveniencing women who wanted to change their marital status or remove their husband’s name from their passports, the reply was that “the ministry has already made provisions for such applicants to obtain fresh or reissue passports with or without spouse name by submitting an affidavit in the form of Annexure ‘K’ available in passportindia.gov.in.”
But now it has been highlighted by one of our readers, Rahul (name changed on request) from Meerut in Uttar Pradesh, that this Annexure K has become a cause of harassment to applicants as it needs to be signed by a first class magistrate, who are not only difficult to approach but also reluctant to sign such documents and raise uncomfortable queries of a personal nature to the applicants – just the way the passport officials did.
Citing a case of such alleged harassment at the hands of the Meerut city magistrate, Rahul had on October 20 complained to the Uttar Pradesh chief minister, chief secretary and the state human rights commission about the “behaviour” of the official and the humiliation faced by him as he went to the official at noon that day to get the Annexure ‘K’ sworn before him.
Stating that the affidavit is required when a man and his wife are not living together and either person doesn’t want to get the spouse’s name printed on the passport, Rahul said the official, without even reading the affidavit, asked him what it was about and why he needed to apply for the passport under Tatkal.
Rahul said when he told the magistrate the purpose of the affidavit, the latter asked him when he had got married. And then instead of following it up with the status of his case, he said the magistrate was more interested in knowing if it was a love or arranged marriage. “As soon as I told him it was a love marriage, he started humiliating me, stating that’s this what happens after love marriage. You guys think that your parents are fools and not educated.”
Rahul complained that the official even drew from his personal experience, saying, “I had my marriage after looking at the bride’s family and what not.”
“The learned officer, instead of feeling the pain a person goes through in case of a failed marriage, started humiliating (me) in front of his staff members. He also stated (that) such persons should not be married (at all),” Rahul continued.
Finding such personal comments uncalled for and insulting, Rahul said they hurt even more as they were spoken in front of other staff members.
Worse was to follow. After all the sermonising, Rahul said, when he explained the need for the affidavit, the official simply said: “I am not going to sign this. I can’t put my job in danger.” Wondering how could the attestation could have endangered the official’s job, Rahul also lodged a complaint with the Ministry of External Affairs on October 27.
“Already a person is half dead due to stress and pain of a failed marriage, and then these officials put him in more pain. I don’t think this is justice,” said Rahul, who has been separated from his wife for the last six years now.
Though Rahul followed up on his complaints with both the state administration and the MEA two weeks after registering them, he claims not to have received any reply as yet.
Rahul said he subsequently managed to get the Annexure ‘K’ signed, but as per the passport office the language was not correct and he was asked to do it all over again. “The language is so confusing. I tried my best to put it right and requested many officials to sign it, but no authority is ready to sign it. They are afraid that they might be called at passport office as well,” he said.