“UID and Transgenders” Conference: Rights Activists Nix Aadhaar

Does state and market recognition through biometrics benefit “sexual minorities”? This is the question posed–the last 2 days’ postings have examined Mumbai-based NGOs’ answering yes. Today’s post (delayed due to start of school year and my just getting back) is a news article from the online India-focused news service and site DNA, reporting on human rights activists who argue the contrary position. The article reports, if somewhat crudely, on a conference held in Bengaluru [Bangalore].

Sexual minorities: UID makes them unique target

Published: Friday, Nov 11, 2011, 11:54 IST
By DNA Correspondent | Place: Bangalore | Agency: DNA

What does gender have to do with unique identification numbers? That’s the question that sexual minorities are asking and they are pondering whether they should opt for Aadhaar.

“Any marginalised community can be targeted. Each denomination can be segregated,” said lawyer BT Venkatesh speaking at a consultation on ‘UID and Transgenders: Potential and Concerns’, on Thursday.

The community that is already discriminated against will become more vulnerable once they tick the ‘TG’ box in the section for gender and become known as transgenders, he said. Also, if the database is hacked, a person’s life can be derailed.

Human Rights activist Uma Chandru said: “Sex workers are constantly harassed. Members of sexual minorities are targeted.” The UID would only help segregate them for such treatment. For instance, the hijra community can be summoned to the police station and harassed if any child goes missing because there is a belief that they steal children, she said.

Members of sexual minorities, who are in desperate need for identity proof as it is a necessity for something as simple as buying a SIM card, are unsure if they should welcome the Aadhaar. Recounting the examination that she had to put herself through to secure a passport, Veena said: “It took me one year and two months to get my passport. At the passport office, the official questioned me for more than an hour. At the hospital, I was stripped, my organs scanned and photographed. At the police station, too, I had to answer many uncomfortable questions.” Authorities even asked her why she needed a passport and if she would misuse it.

Manjesh said that sexual minorities have to work hard to prove their identity and show that the certificates were genuine. “Securing my father’s property was difficult. People beat me up and accuse me of stealing someone else’s documents,” he said. “I have been unable to get the benefits that are given to disabled people even though I am eligible for it because of the gender and identity issue,” another member said.

However, there is no legal basis for collecting biometric information, Aadhaar is “something sinister” that has to be resisted, Venkatesh said.

3 quick thoughts:

1) the mobile narrative of the painful strip search: This article is not the first to document the presumption of the police and other agencies nationally in subjecting transgender persons to disrespectful and humiliating body searches in service of somehow authenticating and ‘de-duplicating’ their identity in authorizing a passport or other documents. The question of the authenticity of the hijra body and the threat of the “false hijra” is a layered question that in the past has saturated both hijra and non-hijra practices of making and policing gender, of ethics, and of sustaining and undoing community boundaries. Here it converges troublingly with the legal-administrative figure of the duplicate.

Elsewhere this same report of the painful and violating search has been used precisely to argue the opposite, as a clear rationale for UID: here it is being used for the opposed purpose. The source of the event in question is (understandably) never offered, and so the narrative becomes a free-floating object inserted in very different sorts of rights and entitlement based claims.

2) Speaking for TGs?: Here, as in the thread cited over the last few days (and as in this blog), “transgenders” are spoken about but not clearly present in the conversation. The named voice of authority is that of ‘human rights’ activism, and the integrity of transgender lives and citizenships here becomes a project to guarantee the human as such. Paraphrasing the classic framing of Lata Mani in her work on others speaking for the sati, one might ask the extent to which the figure of the ‘transgender/hijra’ here is neither subject nor object of debate but its ground. The ways the identical account of official brutalization can be used either to make claims for or against UID somehow seems to dislocate the materiality of the event and make it available as a floating signifier.

But this may not be at all fair to the reporter. The Bangalore activist/NGO milieu has complex and hard-won relations between TG- and non-TG- queers. The conference itself may be generated within this context.

3) Troubling the unique status of Aadhaar: Veena’s account of the intense and humiliating medical forensic examination of her motives and organs in her effort to secure a passport, and those of others’ cited, troubles the presumption that Aadhaar will save people from this kind of violence and suggests rather it will merely multiply it. In my last post, I looked at claims that the queer/sexual health NGO would be expected to serve as the guarantor of identity. But the assembled experience at the conference may suggest otherwise.

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