2L Angie Portel describes summer clinical work in Ranchi, India

S.J. Quinney College of Law 2L Angie Portel is spending the summer in Ranchi, Jharkhand, India working with Maitri India as part of her Clinical coursework. Portel wrote the blog post (below) for Maitri, after interviewing migrant workers. The post was originally published on MaitriIndiaBlog.org.

Right to Identity for Migrant Workers

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I am Angie Portel, Juris Doctor Candidate Class of 2018,  working with Maitri for the Summer Semester 2016.  As part of my Hinckley International Clinical requirements, I am writing a paper about Maitri’s outreach work with migrant rickshaw pullers in Ranchi, Jharkhand.  So far, Maitri has assisted me with interviews of seventeen rickshaw pullers at three different garages in Ranchi.  These men are willing and able to share their stories about what life was like before and after obtaining proof of identity documents.

My article asserts that under international law, every human being from birth has the right to an identity.  It follows then that every human being is entitled to obtain proof of identity documents, without which they cannot participate fully in civil society.  Migrant workers everywhere are particularly vulnerable to abuses when they don’t have identification and Maitri’s Project Adhikar provides a unique opportunity to examine some actual cases. Here is one of the Rickshaw Pullers I met:

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Sanjay is twenty-five years old.  He’s been working at Munna Garage for five years and currently resides in Ranchi.  But before settling in Ranchi, he worked in a slipper factory in Mumbai for one year and was a roofer in Delhi for three years.  He is originally from Patna, Bihar, which is 325 km north of Ranchi, 1054 km east of Delhi, and 1,750 km northeast of Mumbai.  During most of his traveling, Sanjay was not carrying identification.  He was a single man at the time and had no need to save money or plan for the future.

Sanjay said he encountered a few problems from time to time as a result of not having proof of identity.  Specifically, he recalled an instance when he was traveling by train.  He’d been allowed to purchase a ticket and board the train without identification, but then was asked to provide identification to the conductor after the train was underway.  When he could not show proper identification, he was issued a fine before being allowed to pass.

Sanjay grew tired of these periodic hassles, so he went back to his village and met with his Mukhiya (Village Head).  A Mukhiya is the leader of a local village council charged with issuing Voter I.D. Cards for the people residing in their area.  For a time, Sanjay carried a letter from his Mukhiya to use as identification.  Eventually, he had to go back to his village to obtain a Voter I.D. card bearing his photograph.

In 2012, a friend encouraged Sanjay to move to Ranchi and become a rickshaw puller.  Ranchi has a lower cost of living than New Delhi and more money can be made per day.  He is now one of the higher earning Rickshaw Pullers, making about 500 rupees per day (7.50 USD).

Two years ago, Sanjay met his wife and they have a one-year-old son.  His new status as husband and father requires much more civic participation and stability.  Just after getting married, Sanjay obtained an Aadhar card (Universal Identity Card), which he then used to obtain a Below the Poverty Line (BPL) card and a Ration card (Food Security Card). With these cards he can now avail subsidies and other benefits. He also opened a zero balance bank account and has begun saving for the future. IMG_1005

Sanjay’s story is a good example of how a migrant worker would come to participate more fully in civil society and take advantage of the government benefits available to him. I am happy to be able to write about Sanjay’s journey from undocumented migrant worker to his status as an active Indian citizen fulfilling his hopes and desires.

Maitri is building community toilets in the Rickshaw Garages to give Rickshaw Pullers in Ranchi their right to sanitation facility. To support this project please donate here.