AADHAR: Who Benefits?

If Aadhar, currently in the process of registering every citizen of the country by providing each citizen with a Unique Identification Number (UID), comes into force then it would probably put Hitler, Mussolini or even the Rajapakse regime in Sri Lanka to shame. By gaining unprecedented access to each individual personnel and financial records, it would be a potential orwellian state in the making.

‘India is modern country’, a potential “superpower” and all the other vices and arrogance that comes with power, is today being displayed by India, whose goal is to follow in the footsteps of its mentor: United States of America.

More than the technology behind the project, it is the potential misuse of each individual personnel information that is more dangerous than anything else. The project cost could vary anywhere between Rs, 40,000 crore to Rs. 160,000 crore. To implement the project, the government has outsourced it to an US multinational named L-1 identity in a deal worth $ 22.5 million. A country that always projects itself as the World’s largest democracy, there is hardly any debate, referendum or a public hearings, not even a debate in the parliament or the state assemblies about the UID and is today being put on the heads of the people without their consent, which only proves that we live in farcical democracy at best.

In a country, where one in three live below the poverty line, a project which could cost up to Rs 160,000 crores is an insult upon the people of the country. While Aadhar is being promoted as a technological fix to the rampant corruption in delivery of social services, we must also be aware of the potential anti-democratic nature that is so well hidden behind the facade of service delivery.

While the UID is only supposed to ask the name, gender, date of birth and address only, and also take the biometric identification like fingerprints and iris scan plus a photograph, has raised many questions in its wake. [Editor’s note: UID is set amidst NATGRID (National Intellegence Grid) that allows security and intelligence agencies unprecedented access to 21 categories of databases like census, railway and air travel, income tax, phone calls, bank account details, credit card transactions, visa and immigration records, property records, the driving licences etc., and potentially use UID to link them all]

For eg., though caste and religion of an individual will not be directly asked during registration, the UID could potentially use data from the census (which now includes data both caste and religion). Mobile phones, which are used by a vast majority of Indian society, can be tapped for hearing private phone conversations by the state authorities.

According to the government, using UID anyone can open a bank account or obtain public services. The idea according to them is to eliminate corruption in public services and will not be used for anything else. Why, one may ask should any individual give up his or her privacy which is prone to abuse by the state authorities to end corruption which is due to social causes. Another fact about UID is that it will be made mandatory for obtaining public services and access to social schemes thus forcing everyone to opt compulsory for the UID.

Also one may ask, is there actually a problem in opening bank accounts in India? Even if there are bureaucratic hurdles, the reason why 80% of the population do not have a bank account is mainly an economic and social hurdle, not a problem with the banks themselves! In a country where 836 million live on less than Rs. 20 day, would they be enthusiastic about opening bank accounts? When there is nothing much left to save due to rising food prices, where is question of opening bank accounts!

The 2002 communal riots in Gujarat that led to death and maiming of thousands of Muslims was also in a way aided by the state authorities by providing the communalist with details of ration identity cards as source to identify Muslim households. Using this information, Sangh Parivar which includes the RSS, VHP, BJP and Bajrang Dal were able to selectively target Muslim households. Even today many in Gujarat are yet to recover from the riots.

In our neighbouring country of Sri Lanka, a mere identity card was used by the Rajapakse regime to kill Tamils during the last Eelam war. Even today, both Tamils and Sinhala alike, are exploited by the state because of this.

[Editor’s Note: By obtaining iris and fingerprints, the state is setting the precedent for using body as marker for individual identity. One it is an unproven and unreliable technology, it has never been attempted on such large population, authorities still silent on those people suffering from cataract and scarred hands who could be excluded from social services and also fraught with dangers of abuse by both hackers and state authorities. Even more dangerous is the idea being flouted around about DNA profiling and banking]

Therefore, Aadhar or UID is nothing more than a strategy of the ruling class to waive all basic democratic rights of the people and strengthen the arm of the state. This anti democratic and anti people measure is designed to oppress the masses and should be vigorously opposed by the masses before it is too late. But the flip side of this whole episode is that middle classes and the so called literate sections of the society have largely welcomed UID by queuing up in the enrolment centers imagining that technology especially under someone like Nandhan Nilikeni (former Chairman of Infosys and now the unelected head of the UID project) will solve issues like corruption, without understanding the dangers inherent in the whole project.

Vishwanth

Bangalore (Translated from Dudiyora Horaata July- Aug 2011 issue)