Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Make A Wish and Blow Out Your Candles!

A few months ago, while visiting with my husband’s cousin from "the village," I asked her how old she was. She said she didn’t know. In the village, it turns out, they don’t really record birthdays and there’s no annual celebration, so people aren’t really sure how old they are. I found this kind of sad. Granted, as I age, I kind of wish I could forget about my birthday and the increasing number of candles on my cake, but still, you have to admit, it’s kind of fun to celebrate no matter your age.
While trying to gather documents for my husband’s visa, I also learned that birth certificates are not issued, and instead, the law depends on the 10th grade graduation certificate as proof of a person’s date of birth.
Today, I learned something even more strange about birthdays in India. It seems, that at one point in time, in order to write your 10th Standard (10th Grade) exams, you had to be at least 15 years old. So, if a kid was ready to write their exams, but hadn’t reached the age of 15, their parents would forge their date of birth on the document. What happened as a result is that kid would take the exams, and that date of birth would get recorded on their graduation certificate.
Fast Forward: When they attempted to enroll in college, or apply for a job, they would provide their 10th grade graduation certificate as an identity proof, with their forged date of birth, which would then appear on all their legal documents such as driver’s licenses, work permits, passports, etc. Basically, the altered date of birth became their new legal date of birth.
So today, we celebrate a co-workers birthday. Afterwards, we learned that his actual birthday isn’t until November. When asking another co-worker about this, I learned that this co-worker was only 12 when he was ready to write his 10th grade exams (he’s some sort of prodigy I guess) so they advanced his age by almost 3 years on his documents, so he could graduate with his class. When I was checking my office calendar to see what other birthday’s we had coming up, I noted that someone was celebrating a birthday in September, which we had already celebrated in August. So I inquired about it and learned in her case, her parents made a mistake on her 10th standard documents, and because it was recorded there, it became her new legal date of birth, but that she preferred to celebrate in September, when she knew her birthday really occurred.
I find this entire practice strange. In the US, if someone learns they’ve been celebrating their birthday on the wrong date all these years, it makes the newspapers, or is stuff we read about in pre-teen novels after a child discovers they were abducted and the people they thought were their parents are in fact not their parents.  It involves drama on some level. Here, it’s common practice due in large part to no issuance of birth certificates at the time of birth, and instead, relying on a 10th grade graduation certificate, which can easily be forged. What’s scary to me is that whatever is listed on that 10th grade graduation certificate is what becomes your legal birthday on all your documents. It feels like a loss of identity to me. As much as I’d love to find out I’m actually 3 years younger than I think I am, I know my correct age basis the birth certificates issued the day I was born and signed by my parents and the doctors who were present. It never occurred to me that they might be forged, but as so many things here in India, people do what they have to do…
What would you do if you found out the date you’ve been blowing out the candles wasn’t your actual birthday? Would you start celebrating on the correct date, or would you keep celebrating on the same date you always have? Share your thoughts below!


  1. Change...? It's like when people date and have one anniversary, then get married and have a new one. They typically celebrate the latter. It's not about the actual date---it's the social stuff that goes along with it.

  2. I agree with that, to the extent that a dating anniversary isn't a legally documented date, whereas a marriage anniversary is. People are open to celebrate whichever date, for whichever reason they prefer. What's strange about the birth date thing in India is that as far as all of your documentation goes, your legally recorded date of birth can get changed basis whatever is recorded on your tenth grade graduation certificate, and that changed DOB gets documented on everything "official" for the rest of your life.