On September 23, 2013, the Supreme Court ‘s directed that “no person should suffer for not getting the aadhaar card in spite of the fact that some authority had issued a circular making it mandatory”. Reacting to an argument of Mr Anil Divan, Justice Puttaswamy’s counsel, the judges added that “when any person applies to get the Adhaar Card voluntarily, it may be checked whether that person is entitled for it under the law and it should not be given to any illegal immigrant”. The order regarding making the UID mandatory was made in the context of the questionable legality of the project, and the instructions being issued, as it has been in Maharashtra, that teaching and non-teaching staff and judges of the High Court would not get their salaries unless they have a UID. The latter part of the order on `illegal immigrants’ echoes those who wanted, and got, an amendment to the Citizenship Act in 2003 authorising the creation of a National Register of Citizens. This was inherently illogical and opportunistic; for, the rhetoric of threat from the outsider drew upon the Kargil standoff in 1999, when it was Pakistan that was seen as sending in terrorists who needed to be identified and dealt with, but the politics of the day made the migrant from Bangladesh the `threat’. The Home Minister of the day saw them in every shadow. The UID project is a part of this enterprise.
The UID Project, with Mr Nandan Nilekani at its helm, has developed ambitions of its own in the four years since it was set by executive notification. In these four years, what observers and analysts have seen of the project has produced disturbing questions around what constitutes identity and how it will be established: 
Poor Mr Nilekani. Just when everything was going swimmingly for him – adulatory interviews in the foreign press, tantalising rumours of a Congress ticket for the 2014 polls, lots and lots of votes on a poll to select the Greatest Living Indian – comes another well-aimed spanner in his works from that bunch of litigacious Jokers who have been playing rasta roko with his Batmobile for some time now.
The Supreme Court ruling of 23rd September is curt and unequivocal – a) two other challenges to Aadhar in the High Courts of Chennai and Mumbai to be clubbed with this one and heard by a Constitution Bench; b) an immediate freeze on linking Aadhar to benefits under social schemes; and c) a direction to tighten up the registration process to make sure that only Indian citizens are enrolled.
Every line of this ruling is a painful blow for Aadhar. It’s bad enough that the Court has taken seriously the charge that Aadhar violates Constitutional rights. The implication that there are serious errors in the registration process is even worse, and pulls the plug on one of the main arguments in support of the UID – that it will stop leakages in government schemes by weeding out bogus beneficiaries. Worst of all is the decoupling from the “Apna Paisa Apne Haath”bandwagon. If the UPA decides not to jettison the cash transfer scheme – its big-ticket strategy for the 2014 polls – it will find a way to keep it going without Aadhar. Whether or not this strategy pays off, Aadhar will be the loser. Continue reading Aadhaar – What next after the SC ruling? Kalyani Menon-Sen→
This is a guest post by Ram Krishnaswamy For the last three years activists opposing Aadhaar/UID have argued that it can lead to communal targeting, can aid illegal migrants, can invade privacy, is unconstitutional, does not have parliamentary approval, is illegal, etc. Yet all such objections and more have been successfully stonewalled by UIDAI and UPA leaders.
Further, Aadhaar is not compulsory and so such allegations are considered invalid. The middle and upper class Indians have remained silent about the UID debate, as it does not affect them in the least. The long lines of persons stretching before UID enrollment centers must be proof, then, of the popularity of this concept.
Nandan Nilekani and UIDAI Director General R.S Sharma have repeatedly told the nation that UID, now called Aadhaar, is not mandatory. Yet, over a period of time, they say, it could become ubiquitous, if service providers insist upon it compulsorily, in order to receive their services. To quote UIDAI Chairman, Nandan Nilekani, “Yes, it is voluntary. But the service providers might make it mandatory. In the long run I wouldn’t call it compulsory. I’d rather say it will be come ubiquitous.”
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.
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.
We support cash transfers such as old age pensions, widow pensions, maternity entitlements and scholarships. However, we oppose the government’s plan for accelerated mass conversion of welfare schemes to UID-driven cash transfers. This plan could cause havoc and massive social exclusion. We demand the following:
1. No replacement of food with cash under the Public Distribution System.
The PDS is a vital source of economic security and nutrition support for millions of people. It should be expanded and consolidated, not dismantled.
2. Immediate enactment of a comprehensive National Food Security Act, including universal PDS.
This long guest post byTAHA MEHMOOD, who has been independently researching surveillence, biometrics and identification techonologies for a long time dissects the discussion and discourse around the Unique Identification Database scheme of the Government of India
The Discreet Charm of UID
The January 2012 issue of The Economist, a magazine published from London, has an article on India’s national ID card scheme, titled, The Magic Number. The article focuses on how UID is progressing. The brave hero of the story is of course Nandan Nilekani and villain is ‘India’s stubborn home minister, P. Chidambaram,’ who ‘is now blocking a cabinet decision to extend the UID’s mandate, which is needed for the roll-out to continue’. According to the unnamed author of the article, ‘Indian politics hinge on patronage—the doling out of opportunities to rob one’s countrymen. UID would make this harder. That is why it faces such fierce opposition, and why it could transform India.’ This article appeared in The Economist days after the report of Standing Committee of Finance was released. What went on in the deliberations of this standing committee?
Contrary to what his name suggests, Bechu Lal Yadav, 29, isn’t a seller of goods. He is a recordist of identity. He is amongst a new breed of technical professionals that have come up overnight – the Biometricwallahs. Continue reading The Biometricwallah→
Simon Bar Jona was a fisherman based in small town called Bethaida. They say one day Simon’s brother, Andrew, led him to a man who called himself Jesus. They say Simon and Andrew became disciples of Jesus.
One day Jesus asked his disciples, “Who do you think I am?”
His disciples looked at each other. They did not know anything about him. They did not know who he was. Some disciples said Jesus was actually John the Baptist: some said he was Elijah; and others though he was Jeremias. Jesus could have been any of these or none of these. But Jesus was not satisfied with the answer, so he asked again, “Who do you think I am?”
At that point Simon Bar Jona, the fisherman answered, “Are you not Christ, the Son of the living God?’“
An identity card virus seems to be spreading across south-Asia. The pathogen emerged long ago in 1971, when Pakistan established a paper based personal identity system. !971 was also the year when Pakistan was engaged with India in a military conflict which led to the creation of Bangladesh. In 1972, a year later, the Department of Registrations of Persons located at Colombo, Sri Lanka, was entrusted with the responsibility of issuing a national identity to citizens who were over sixteen years of age. In 1972 the name of the island was changed from Ceylon to Sri Lanka and Tamil Tiger leader Velupillai Prabhakaran formed the Tamil New Tigers (TNT), which later became LTTE or Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam. The state of Sri Lanka was at war with LTTE for the next three decades. Nothing new happened on the national identity card front for the next two decades. Continue reading On the fuzziness of Personal Identity: UIDAI and the national identity card of India: Taha Mehmood→
Drafted by KALYANI MENON-SEN for the Stop UID Campaign
AN APPEAL TO CITIZENS
The National Identification Authority of India Bill approved by the Union Cabinet on Friday has sidestepped critical privacy aspects relating to profiling and function creep — a term used to describe the way in which information is collected for one limited purpose but gradually gets used for other purposes.
Here are some reasons why you should oppose this Bill:
1. False claims
The Government of India and Nandan Nilekani, Chairperson UIDAI, have been claiming that the UID scheme will enable inclusive growth by providing each citizen with a verifiable identity, that it will facilitate delivery of basic services, that it will plug leakages in public expenditure and that it will speed up achievement of targets in social sector schemes.
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→