I just arrived home after another day at the Foreigner’s Regional Registration Office (FRRO). It was one of those roller coaster days that India is famous for, where things constantly went in and out of my favour. However, the overall outcome was positive. I succeeded in getting myself re-registered. In fact, I initially thought that the process was going to go so smoothly this time, I would have nothing to write (complain) about!
I got a fast train to Churchgate. This compensated for the time that was wasted finding a shop with a working photocopier, so that I could get the required duplicates of my documents made. (I’m still questioning the necessity of this, since my documents have already been duplicated many times and are on file at the FRRO). The lobby of the FRRO was relatively deserted, and I didn’t have to wait to see the woman at the front desk. She examined my photocopies and found all the required documents to be present.
Then, she looked at the stamps in my passport. “You’re two days late”, she informed me. “What do you mean?”, I asked in surprise. “The date on your arrival stamp is 22 March, today is 24 September. You’ve been in India for more than six months”. (For the blissfully ignorant, foreigners and Persons of Indian origin must register themselves at the FRRO within 6 months of continually being in India). Oh no. I was genuinely shocked. For some reason, I thought the date on my arrival stamp was 24 March. My life has been so hectic lately.
Sigh. I was guilty and was no doubt going to be severely punished.
However, the woman at the desk said nothing further about the matter. She simply gave me a token number and told me to go inside. Inside, the process was repeated. The woman at the registration desk examined my reams of photocopies (passport, visa, front and back page of husband’s passport, marriage certificate, proof of address, signed undertaking from my husband to be responsible for me). Then, she remarked that I was two days late. Nothing further was said about it. “Take this slip to the payment counter, pay, and come back”, she instructed me.
I looked down at the slip. 100 rupees registration fee, plus a $USD 30 late fee. Severe punishment it was. Especially when a six month tourist visa only costs around $USD 40 for many nationalities. And especially when men are relieving themselves all over Mumbai and only getting fined 100-200 rupees for the offense! At the current exchange rate, my late fee netted the Indian government over 1,500 rupees. I didn’t have enough cash on me to pay it, so had to go and find an ATM.
It was a nasty reminder that although I’m a resident of India, I’m still very much a foreigner. Fair enough, fine me. But since I’m a resident of India, why still fine me in USD? The registration fee was payable in rupees.
I guess the fine has to be suitably high because I’m a foreigner. However, as an Indian resident with a visa that doesn’t even entitle me to be employed in India, I’m hardly a wealthy foreigner. If I was an expat working here on a juicy contract, maybe such a high fine would be more justifiable. Oh well, that’s the system!
Would an Indian have argued and tried to negotiate a bribe under these circumstances, I wonder? Unfortunately for me, that sort of thing isn’t my area of expertise. Knowing I was in the wrong, I just decided to shut up and pay up.
The roller coaster continued on my way home. It was early afternoon and I got an uncrowded fast train. The journey was quite pleasant. However, the usual chaos ensured at the station when I got off. One fat aunty was determined to board the train before everyone had disembarked. I was in the process of stepping onto the platform when she grabbed me and forcefully shoved me aside, into the train doors and oncoming passengers.
Shamefully, I’m hardly civilised in these situations. To regain my footing, I launched myself into the fat aunty, making sure that I had my elbow out at the same time. It was a very padded landing!
© 2009, Diary of a White Indian Housewife. All rights reserved. Do not copy and reproduce text or images without permission.
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