Guest post by PEGGY MOHAN: When the size and complexity of a system pass a certain threshold there is a new feature that typically and suddenly appears: self-regulation. If traffic flow through a crossing exceeds a certain amount we wake up one morning and find a traffic light. It is not there to favor any motorist: what it really signifies is that the scale of things has changed. We are no longer in the realm of the individual but of something much, much larger: a traffic system with compulsions of its own.
It is comforting to think that there is human agency behind the bewildering transitions we are now seeing the world over towards more state surveillance and control along with less regulation of big business. Clearly there are individuals who benefit from the new order. But there is another way of looking at the direction the world is taking. It is possible to see all this as evidence of a phase change, with the emergence of the megasystem itself as a new protagonist, and with human beings relegated to the status of bacteria proliferating in (and dying in) its gut. Continue reading In the Belly of the Beast: Peggy Mohan
Guest Post by Moiz Tundawala
After the suppression of the 1857 Mutiny and the British take over of Delhi, Mirza Ghalib was once asked by a military official whether he were Muslim or not. Ghalib is said to have quipped: “Only half Muslim; I drink wine but refrain from swine.” For me, this ripost evinces a flippant disdain for modern forms of rule which essentialize persons and groups purely based on certain attributes which are deemed definitive and prioritized over others. As far as Ghalib’s case was concerned, the idea may have been to find out based on his religious identity if at all he could pose problems for the newly established colonial regime. In later years, this policy, which African intellectual Mahmood Mamdani has recently termed ‘define and rule’, gradually became integral to governmental practices in most parts of the modern world; today, populations are ever so readily classified and enumerated based on empirically observable characteristics in order to make them amenable to effective government. The Aadhaar project of the Unique Identification Authority of India clearly falls within the gamut of such practices, marking a transition to modernity in a radical break from the past. So my reservations with it are just the same as those with any other modernity inspired programme wherein personal and collective identities are reduced to a somewhat arbitrarily determined bare essence which may have no real connection with lived experiences of fuzzy and contextually constructed identities.
Continue reading Aadhar/UID is Against Equality and Democracy: Moiz Tundawala
Guest post by USHA RAMANATHAN
The air is thick with schemes that will enable the state, and its agencies, to identify every resident, and to track what they are doing. A Home Ministry project for creating a National Population Register which will be prepared along with the 2011 Census has been propelled through its pilot stage. Now, an ambitious programme has been launched to load all the residents of the country on to a data base, providing each of us with a unique identity number. What distinguishes this exercise from any other undertaken so far?
First of all, the intention is provide a Unique Identity Number to the whole population, including the just born. The state is to have data on each individual literally from birth to death; and beyond, for a person’s UID is not destroyed at death, merely dis-abled. The numbers are to be so generated that it will not have to be repeated for between a hundred and two hundred years. Continue reading An Aid to Surveillance