In the 1930s, infamous American bank robber John Dillinger went to extremes to obliterate his fingerprints. He subjected himself to terrible pain as he burned off his fingerprints with acid.
It was his attempt to evade identification so that his fingerprints could not be used to link him to crime scenes.
There are people without fingerprints but unlike Dillinger, they did not mutilate the marks on purpose. It is their birth defect, and Apu Sarker from Puthia upazila of Rajshahi is one of them.
For years, Adermatoglyphia has been a challenge in different aspects of Apu's life, including the time when he had to be fingerprinted to apply for his national identity card (NID).
According to the Genetic and Rare Diseases Information Centre in the US, Adermatoglyphia is an extremely rare condition characterised by a lack of ridges on the skin of the fingers, toes, palms of the hand, and soles of the feet. As the pattern of these ridges forms each person's unique fingerprints, people with this condition are not able to be identified by fingerprints.
It took Apu two years to get his NID. He applied for it in 2016 and received it in 2018.
"Hereditarily, I do not have ridges on the skin of my fingers and feet, and that is why I do not have fingerprints. My father has the same problem. His NID card reads: 'Fingerprints not available'," the 23-year-old told The Business Standard.
During NID registration, he informed the officials concerned of this problem, but no one paid any heed. Election Commission officials subjected him to the process of taking fingerprints. When his NID card finally arrived, it mentioned nothing about the absence of his fingerprints.
"Now I cannot buy SIM cards. When I go to a customer care centre to be fingerprinted, nothing is displayed on the screen when I put my thumb and index finger on the device," he explained.
"After a few months of struggle, I had to buy a SIM card in the name of my mother. But if I want to buy another, I need to get help from my friends," Apu explained.
A few days ago, his SIM card got damaged, and it was necessary to replace it. It was a troublesome process as his mother had to go to the customer care centre with him. Finally, he was able to get a new SIM card.
"Here is the problem. I have to buy SIM cards in other people's names, but they are not with me all the time. It would be good to have an alternative method to buy SIM cards. I do not know who I should talk to about this problem," he said.
He went to the local Election Commission office and the mobile phone operator's Rajshahi divisional customer care centre several times. But his problem was not solved.
When he went to the Election Commission office, they suggested that he contact mobile phone operators. But when he did so, they advised him to talk to Election Commission officials, putting him in a quandary.
"Only I can understand the difficulties of not having fingerprints. I do not know who can solve the problems I have been facing for years," he said – frustration in his voice.
The Daily Mail reported in 2011 that new findings by Professor Eli Sprecher of Tel Aviv University's Sackler Faculty of Medicine and the Tel Aviv Sourasky Medical Centre had shown that a genetic mutation is responsible for this unusual condition.
Adermatoglyphia first came to the attention of the medical community when a Swiss woman attempted to cross the border into the US, which requires non-citizens to be fingerprinted upon entering the country.
Border control officials were perplexed when the woman told them she could not comply with the procedure as she did not have fingerprints. She and nine members of her family, who have no fingerprints either, then underwent a genetic analysis.
Abu Hanif Tipu, 47, is a government employee whose name was on the very first NID registration list in 2006 when the caretaker government was in power. Unlike Apu, he did not develop Adermatoglyphia at birth but by the time of NID registration, he had some problems in his thumb and index finger ridges.
Despite that, the NID authorities allowed him to register. Later, the ridges disappeared gradually around 2018-19. Now, he is behind the eight ball.
"I have been experiencing numerous problems since it happened," he said.
He recently lost his Banglalink SIM card and went to at least five customer care centres to get a new one. Unfortunately, none could solve his problem.
He continued, "Now, I am scared about my Grameenphone and Teletalk SIM cards. What will be the situation if something happens to those?"
Mobile phone operators should think about this issue, added Tipu.
Another youth named Ahmed Arifur Rahman told The Business Standard that he has had Adermatoglyphia since birth.
"I have fingers like other people but there are no ridges. This might sound weird but for me, this is the reality," he said.
Arif's problems were not confined to buying SIM cards only. He was able to apply for a passport as he did not require to be fingerprinted at the time, but problems arose when he needed to renew it. It was necessary to give fingerprints then.
He faced hassles at the airport, too.
Nusrat Jahan, Criminal Investigation Department's forensic system analyst, told The Business Standard that only four extended families in the world are known to have Adermatoglyphia.
She said it is also called the "immigration delay disease" since a lack of fingerprints makes it difficult for people to cross international borders.
Professor Dr MU Kabir Chowdhury, a renowned dermatologist, told TBS that he had found only a few people with this disorder in his decades-long career.
"We have no exact statistics on how many people in Bangladesh are living with this disease," he added.