Combining field and event, camp is in effect spatial practice.[…] Camps are spaces where states of emergency or legal exception have become the rule. [They offer] the setting for the normative permanence of a suspended rule of law.
~Charlie Hailey, Camps: A Guide to 21st Century Space
The story of Aadhar is not unknown—a new, cutting edge piece of documentary practice jack-booted for this 21st century, it seeks to cull out fraudulent persons tied to dubious places or circumstances (words like ‘ghosts’, ‘fakes’, ‘frauds’, ‘duplicates’ abound in its context). Paeans to the powers of biometrics have been sung from numerous citadels of power—the project’s uniqueness lies in its capacity to channel biological anatomy to a singular fantasy of individually-determined (and fixed) citizenship; its ability to weed out duplication and duplicity in favour of fool-proof individuality; its promise to identify seamlessly; its realization of that ultimate bureaucratic fantasy that seeks to eliminate the noisiness of personhood and the messiness of individual lives by inaugurating a system of identity constructed and at once accomplished through a 12-digit number tied to the bedrock of fingerprints and iris-scans. These seductive powers of identity and technology, long wished for by visions and bureaucratic pursuits of rationality, contrast against fears of the invasion of privacy, the dangers of centralising data, and the abuse of powers and of information by functionaries of government, as well as—by no means less important—prospects of technological malfunction in the field of civic services or anatomical recalcitrance.
Independent India was built, imagined and judged by its villages; by gram swaraj. The nation was rarely, if ever, imagined by its founders to be led (Chandigarh aside) by its cities. Cities were spaces of the other — of colonial empires and cantonments, of a modernity that had come first in the garb of colonialism — separate from the “inner” nation, which, authentic and unsullied, lived on in the villages. As Nehru once famously said: “we want to urbanise India’s villages; not take away the people from villages to towns.”
This ambiguity over the city and the reductive stereotypes it inhabits has had a long innings; and yet has begun to change. The urban has begun to rise not just demographically but politically, electorally, socially, culturally and economically to become the defining problem space of the ‘new India.’ Cities, for better and worse, have caught our imagination.
There are times when our critical antennae do not perk up. We do not wish to decode certain signs because we are all implicated in them. Following the 14 September blasts in Delhi, suddenly the media found a new value in ragpickers, street vendors, auto drivers and others who live on the fringes of the city and are generally looked down upon by people who inhabit apartments, blogs, cars (and autos, I must add).
Suddenly, by 15 September, ragpicker Krishna was canonized as a ‘hero’ by the media, the police and the state (the Delhi government claims credit for saving some lives with its ‘eyes and ears’ policy). Yet, Times of India prefaced its report about Krishna thus: Continue reading Some images do not disturb→