Karachi’s Imkaan Gymnastics Team has won top prizes in online competitions held during the Covid-19 pandemic by Russia and the Philippines. But, without legal identification, they are barred from traveling to compete outside Karachi. Despite many Bengali-speaking families living in Pakistan for generations, none of their parents have government issued ID cards.

Biometric Belonging in Pakistan

Around the word, centralized biometric identification systems are being presented as one-stop solutions to many of our problems.

According to governments and the organizations behind them, they provide safety and social security to millions. To critics, they are overarching, inflexible and reflect what people in power believe society should look like, not what it actually is.

In this collection of pieces, Coda Story’s inaugural Bruno fellow, Alizeh Kohari takes a deep dive into the benefits and pitfalls of Pakistan’s National Database and Registration Authority

Pakistan has been celebrated internationally for its wide-ranging centralized digital identification system. The National Database and Registration Authority (NADRA) issues ID cards which control nearly all aspects of life in the country, including school enrollment, employment, bank accounts and phone plans. But millions, like the Imkaan gymnasts and their families, have fallen through the program’s cracks.

Now the team is fighting back, appealing to the Interior Ministry to grant them citizenship on the basis of birthright. If they win, their case will set a precedent for more than three million stateless people in the country.

This is their story.