Ruma’s daughter was approaching school age, but there was a problem: Her daughter didn’t have a birth certificate. Ruma couldn’t enroll her in school without one.
The idea of securing a birth certificate was daunting and unclear for Ruma. She is a member of Bangladesh’s Urdu-speaking community, a minority group that has faced discrimination for decades and whose citizenship was only confirmed in 2008. With her family, she lives in a camp of Urdu-speakers community in the city of Khulna. Members of the community – particularly those who reside in the camps – often do not understand their citizenship rights, do not know how to apply for their identity documents, or face discrimination during the application process.
Fortunately, Ruma had heard about a local office where paralegals offered assistance to those in the Urdu-speaking community. She sent her husband to the office, run by Namati’s partner, Council of Minorities, to find out if they could help her family through the process of acquiring proper identity documents. The paralegals advised her husband that he needed his ID card, a Commissioner’s Certificate, and a letter from the local leadership in the camp to prove who he was and where he lived.
But establishing where the family lived was a problem: Ruma and her husband couldn’t use an electricity bill as proof of residence because the electricity meter at their house had been destroyed in a fire. They hadn’t applied for a new meter because they didn’t know where to go. To begin, the paralegal took Ruma’s husband on a journey across the city of Khulna to the main electricity office to apply for a new meter.
A month later, the new meter was installed and the family began receiving a bill listing the house number – an essential step for camp residents across the country, who can use an electricity bill to pursue basic citizenship rights such as acquiring a passport or opening a bank account.
Encouraged by the success with the electricity meter, Ruma approached the paralegals for assistance in acquiring a birth certificate for her daughter. The paralegal advised her on the process, even accompanying her to the commissioner’s office. It was intimidating at first, Ruma admits, but she’s glad she did it “I got the certificate of my daughter and I can admit my daughter in school,” she says happily.
Ruma says she learned the process so well that she intends to help other Urdu-speakers get their identity documents and realize their full rights to citizenship, too. “I will help,” she says, “I will go with them to the Commissioner’s Office.