Having been a teacher for more than two decades, 60-year-old Beatrix Isabel D’Gama was familiar with the idea of students being given “extra marks” in exceptional circumstances. Yet, there was one place where she did not expect a complaint about an extra mark: in her own name. Not least from the Employees’ Provident Fund Organisation.
“You are requested to update your name without any extra marks as available in your name title ‘D’gama’, our system has not allow (sic), and due to this the amount has been retuned (sic) from bank,” a helpline officer from the provident fund organisation wrote to her when she asked why her retirement dues of more than Rs 9 lakh had been stuck for over a month.
When D’Gama asked if the change had to be made to her bank account, the officer replied, “Not in bank. Aadhaar and UAN [Universal Account Number, under which provident fund contributions are made].”
D’Gama isn’t the only one facing this problem. Many Anglo-Indians and members of Catholic communities on India’s west coast in places like Goa, Mangalore and Mumbai have names with apostrophes and hyphens such as such as D’Souza, D’Silva and D’Penha. However, this has been ignored by the coders designing the Union government’s provident fund platform, in addition to many other government-run IT systems. Names with special characters are often rejected.
D’Gama, a resident of Kolkata, worked at Sushila Birla Girls’ School for close to a decade before retiring in December.
After she failed to receive her provident fund, she was told that the problem was at her bank’s end. However, after making enquiries at the bank, she was eventually told by the Employees’ Provident Fund Organisation that the problem was the apostrophe in her name.
When an officer told D’Gama that she would have to change her Aadhaar and Universal Account Number, she visited the EPFO office on Park Street in Kolkata to make enquiries.
“The people at Park Street office had been very helpful,” she said. “One of the top officers I met told me that he understands the problem is on their side.”
But when D’Gama asked them to correct this technical error, the officers were unable to help.
“He said no, all this programming has to be done in Delhi,” she said. “He cannot do anything here.”
Regardless, the officer asked her for a week’s time, till Friday and agreed to give her a cheque instead of sending money online.
This was workable for D’Gama: “I said okay you give me a cheque, with or without the apostrophe, my bank will clear it.”
But when she contacted the office on Monday, there was no response.
“It’s not fair,” D’Gama told Scroll.in. “I cannot change my name for the employees’ provident fund.”
She said that there were others with an apostrophe in their name who have faced similar problems. “I was told by my accounts office that there was someone with the name of D’Cruz, who did not get her money also,” she said, adding that the officers at the Employee Provident Fund Organisation office at Park Street also told her about other such instances.
Problems faced by others
Several people with apostrophes in their names told Scroll.in that there was no uniform policy on whether a government document could have special characters, such as apostrophes and hyphens. Therefore, while some documents contained apostrophes, others did not.
Marshal D’Cunha, a resident of Kerala, told Scroll.in that while he had an apostrophe in his permanent account number card other government documents such as Aadhaar and provident fund do not have apostrophes. A resident of Hyderabad, Kevin D’Mello, had an apostrophe on his Aadhaar card but not on his permanent account number card. Even D’Gama’s driving license and permanent account number card do not have an apostrophe but other documents such as her Aadhaar, passport and bank accounts have it.
“I got my PAN card made long back. Therefore, the apostrophe is there,” D’Cunha said. D’Mello added, “It depends on the type of form you are filling. If it’s an offline form, then you will try to put [the apostrophe] in one of the blocks. But the same thing if it is online, either it will accept the character or it will not.”
This creates confusion and can lead to trouble in accessing everyday services. “We have to adjust according to the system,” D’Cunha said. For instance, recently, while booking railway tickets, D’Cunha had to put in his name without an apostrophe.
D’Mello has often faced problems doing an Aadhaar-based verification: “If I go ahead on any application where they take the Aadhaar details and I put in the Aadhaar number and name – with an apostrophe – as it is in my Aadhaar card, these know-your-customer forms would not accept the name.” D’Mello said that he has to use his Aadhaar-linked mobile number to proceed with the verification.
“This happens across platforms and is not just limited to one or two cases,” he added.
Raised in Parliament
Stories like this led to Trinamool Congress member of Parliament Derek O’Brien raising the issue in Parliament on Thursday. “The government had promised a seamless digital experience,” he said. “I urge the government to modify the EPFO software to accommodate all names with apostrophes and hyphens.”
He added: “This hurts citizens, especially the citizens of Goa...Names with apostrophes D’Cruz, D’Rosario, D’Silva, D’Gama…are common names, especially…in South Goa.”
In addition, he said, the Anglo-Indian community is also impacted. Anglo-Indian names sometimes have an apostrophe or are double-barrelled, with a hyphen in the name: say, O’Connell or Taylor-Smith.
This could potentially also hurt people of other communities who include the surnames of both their parents in their names, such as Mitra-Venkat or Mehta-Sharma.
“There is no doubt that this a problem,” O’Brien told Scroll.in. “Unlike other issues raised in Parliament, if you raise an issue with a special mention, the minister is duty bound to reply in writing. So the ministry will reply on this.”