Shahida Parvin and her husband Mohammad Anwar live with their four children in the Market Camp of Mohammadpur area in Dhaka city. Shahida and Anwar got married in 1987. The next year Shahida’s parents and siblings migrated to India who now live in Begusarai village in the district of Bihar. Since getting married Shahida never had a chance to visit her family in India. By now both her father and mother have become quite old and often suffer from illnesses due to their old age. However, Shahida did not have any valid citizenship documents such as a passport and living in the camp she didn’t even know that she was entitled to get any such documents as a citizen of Bangladesh. As a result, while she often felt sad and depressed about not being able to meet her family members for such a long time, she could do nothing but cry.
Shahida’s daughter Ruma came to know about the paralegal project of the Council of Minorities (COM) and met a paralegal. The paralegal informed her about the different activities of COM including providing assistance for obtaining citizenship documents such as birth certificates, national identity (NID) cards and passports. Ruma realized that her mother was entitled to get a passport as a Bangladeshi citizen and that the COM paralegals would help her to obtain it. She immediately informed her mother about it and the next day went to the Paralegal Centre to fill up a passport application form for her mother with the help of a paralegal. On 28th May 2015, accompanied by a COM paralegal Shahida went to the regional passport office and submitted her application along with the due fees. A few days later an officer from the Special Branch of Police came to her house and asked for proof of residence such as copies of electricity and gas bills. As the camp residents do not have such documents it was difficult to convince the officer and after a while he left. The date of passport delivery was about a month later on 24th May 2015 and on that day when Shahida went to the passport office she was handed her first ever passport.
Once she received the passport Shahida made arrangements to travel to India and then she finally met her mother and father, and sisters and brothers after 28 long years. Her sadness and depression went away. She is now planning to visit her family in India again sometime within the next few years.
Azim Khan is a poor resident of Geneva Camp in the Mohammadpur area of Dhaka city. He makes a living by driving an auto-rickshaw though he did not have a driving license. Because of this every now and then he was facing problems with the traffic authorities which made his livelihoods difficult and uncertain. The only solution to his problems was to obtain a valid driving license. But despite several attempts Azim could not get a driving license from the authorities because he did not have either a birth certificate or a national identity (NID) card. Like many other residents of Geneva Camp Azim was not aware of the 2008 court ruling that guarantees Bangladeshi citizenship of the Urdu-speaking community members. Hence, he did not know that he was entitled to get legal identity documents from the authorities that are required to prove his citizenship and to receive essential services from the government.
One day Azim’s wife attended a community meeting organized in her area by a paralegal from the Council of Minorities (COM). In that meeting, the paralegal explained to the community members about their citizenship rights and entitlements. From this discussion, Azim’s wife came to know about the importance of legal identity documents to access the rights and entitlements of a citizen. She also learned about the services provided by the COM paralegals. The next day she visited the Geneva Camp Paralegal Centre and sought assistance from the paralegals for obtaining an auto-rickshaw driving license for Azim. The paralegals explained to her the process and documents required for obtaining a driving license. On hearing that Azim did not have a birth certificate they started to work with him in order to ensure that he can obtain one. With help from the paralegals Azim received his birth certificate within 15 days. For the first time in his life he now owned a legal identity document that proves his citizenship in Bangladesh. The paralegals then helped Azim to submit an application to the office of Bangladesh Road Transport Authority (BRTA) for his driving license. Within a month Azim received his driving license.
Azim now drives his auto-rickshaw six days a week without fear of harassment from the authorities. He is making a decent income to support his family and have also admitted his son in school. A birth certificate and driving license obtained with assistance from COM paralegals have thus changed the life of Azim and his family.
Shahana Begum lost her national identity (NID) card when she went to vote during the national election of 2014. She didn’t have any photocopy of the card and faced numerous problems due to not having her NID. It barred her from accessing services from many formal institutions. Shahana and her husband Mohammad Karim live in Geneva Camp in Mohammadpur, Dhaka with their four children. The family earned a meagre income with which it was difficult to get by every day. One of her sons then decided to start a business but he did not have the capital required for it. Unable to arrange the money from any other sources Shahana tried to get a loan from a cooperative. However, getting loan from the cooperative required submission of a photocopy of NID with the loan application. Hence, she could not even get a loan from the cooperative due to not having her NID.
One day a paralegal from the Council of Minorities (COM) went to her house as part of household visit activities of the organization. Shahana informed the paralegal about her situation and told her how she was facing many problems due to not having an NID. The paralegal advised Shahana to go to the Paralegal Centre to get assistance. Without any delay Shahana went to the Paralegal Centre the very next day. A COM paralegal then took her to Mohammapur office of the National Election Commission (NEC) – the issuing authority of NID cards. After searching through hundreds of records the NEC officials were able to identify her NID card number. But getting a duplicate card issued required completion of many other formalities. The first requirement was filing a general diary at the local police station informing them about the missing NID. The COM paralegal assisted Shahana to file the general diary at the police station. The paralegal then helped Shahana to fill in an application for a duplicate NID card and submit it at the NEC with a photocopy of the general diary.
Approximately one month after submitting her application Shahana received a duplicate NID from the NEC office. She then used a photocopy of her new NID to successfully obtain a loan from the cooperative. Her son invested the money to start his business and is now earning a decent income to support the family. Thanks to the support from a COM paralegal, the financial condition of Shahana’s family has improved and she is now looking forward to a better future.
Mehedi lives in Camp No. 5 in Bangalipur area of Syedpur district with his father Mohammad Jabed and mother Mosammat Sabera. His parents had big dreams for Mehedi as he was their only child. They decided to ensure a good education for him no matter how difficult it was for them to manage it. When Mehedi got to class five, the school authorities asked his parents to provide a copy of Mehedi’s birth certificate which was a government requirement for the registration for primary school certificate (PSC) examination at the end of class five. Jabed and Sabera had no idea about what a birth certificate was and how or from where to get it. They became heavily distressed worrying Mehedi’s future.
Jabed asked his neighbors for their help. One of the neighbors told him that there were two paralegals in Syedpur working for the Council of Minorities (COM) who helped to get birth certificates for his children. Jabed immediately got in touch with a COM paralegal and asked for her help. Mehedi did not have an immunization card. So, the paralegal first helped Jabed to get an immunization card issued for Mehedi from the municipality office. Then she helped Jabed to fill in the birth certificate application form, got it signed by the ward councilor and went back to the municipality to submit it. But the officials at the birth registration section refused to accept the application claiming that in 2007 municipality officials went to every household and issued birth certificates for everyone. They further said that they will issue a birth certificate for Mehedi only if copies of his parents’ birth certificates are submitted with the application. Neither Jabed nor Sabera had birth certificates so they became very much disheartened by this. The paralegal then took them directly to the mayor of Syedpur municipality and shared the situation with him. The mayor asked Jabed and Sabera if they had national identity (NID) cards and they said yes. The paralegal informed the mayor that in 2007 when municipality officials were enlisting for birth registration by doing household visits they did not go to the camps of the Urdu-speaking community. However, everyone there now has NID cards. On hearing this the mayor immediately instructed an official from the birth registration section to issue a birth certificate for Mehedi. He also instructed the official to provide birth certificates to any camp residents who applies for one. After this Mehedi got his birth certificate within a few days.
With his birth certificate Mehedi was able to register for the PSC examination and successfully passed it with GPA 3.92. He is now studying in class six. Both Jabed and Sabera are very happy that Mehedi is able to continue his education. Moreover, realizing the importance of birth certificate, they, too, have got their birth certificates issued as well.