Aadhaar and “Financial Inclusion” on the doorstep: Biometrics and the double expansion of poverty capital

A news item this week promises new “financial inclusion” of those previously too poor to be eligible for formal savings and credit instruments in the legal banking industry.

Intensified bank recruiting for “no frills” accounts

Reporting from the Union Territory of Puducherry [the former Pondicherry], the August 5 edition of the Hindu notes:

The State Level Bankers’ Committee (SLBC) has decided to step up campaign to lure people for opening bank accounts.

A meeting of SLBC, which held here recently, reviewed the progress of financial inclusion in the Union Territory.

A release said, the bankers were asked to give priority to those approaching banks for opening new accounts. The services of existing customers could be used for reaching out to others.

Simplification of norms

The norms for opening accounts were also simplified. They could open accounts with zero balance or low balance. Those, who had bank accounts, had been asked to hand over copies of ration card and “Aadhaar” card for including the details in their respective accounts immediately.

At the outset, some critics would understandably challenge the degree of inclusiveness of such publicity of inclusion. Thus Usha Ramanathan, whose article in Seminar I discussed in the previous blog post, compellingly challenges multiple “myths” promoted by the UIDAI and its boosters, including “the myth that this will be inclusive.” The enrollment structure of UID and Aadhaar formally parallels the typical enrollment structure of formal sector banking: one can only open a bank account, in many cases, through an introducer known to the bank, that is another account-holder. One’s access to banking presumes one maintains ties to others with the status of bank account-holders. Similarly, one registers for Aadhaar primarily in one of two ways: with sufficient formal documentation or, in the absence for many of the same [cf. the return of Jim Crow legislation in the ever more ugly United States] through an introducer.

Ramanathan does not in this short piece attend to the role of NGOs as introducers, discussed in the blog earlier in the context of debates over transgender inclusion under Aadhaar. But even if NGOs provide a different avenue of inclusion for variously marginal populations, they do so precisely through specific categories of humanitarian legibility producing their own terrain of limit and abandonment. One could both limit and extend her argument in reference to NGO “introducing.”

But here I want to support a claim opposite to that of Ramanathan, though not critical of or excluding her point. That is, how does inclusion itself become a ground of operations that might merit closer critical attention. The idea of inclusion as a form of subjectivization is not particularly novel, of course.  But it takes on a new range of relevance given the recent and ongoing powerful analysis of poverty capital and humanitarian goods by scholars like Ananya Roy, Vincanne Adams, Peter Redfield, and others. I had a recent and exciting conversation with William Stafford whose work rethinking the informality and extralegality of informal labor also engages the multiple ways in which “the poor” are being produced as forms of “potential value” and thus value.

At the outset, let me just note the following points, juxtaposing the brief Puducherri report with the photo above, referring to a different recent effort to include the previously excluded within formal sector banking through new “doorstep” enrollment programs linking humanitarian NGOs, corporate banks, and the state, a version of the expected current triumvirate.

(1) The expansion of banking to the poor, and thus of banking through the poor, operates in relation to Aadhaar in a double form, at least in reference to the limitations of the brief article. That is: new norms of simplified enrollment are to be offered as an inclusive measure. These norms parallel the design and rhetoric of UID/Aadhaar though the article does not state if Aadhaar will be used as a necessary or sufficient guarantor of the trustworthiness of the newly included marginal subject of finance. Given multiple previous articles splayed across the mediascape in which part of the promise of Aadhaar is its guarantee of financial inclusion, the use of Aadhaar in such new norms may be implied. But what is explicitly noted is something else, not that Aadhaar will be used to bring the marginal and excluded into the embrace of the included, but rather than Aadhaar will be demanded of the marginal and included: “Those, who had bank accounts, had been asked to hand over copies of ration card and ‘Aadhaar’ card for including the details in their respective accounts immediately.” In other words, not only is banking expanding in the sense of creating value through inclusion, given apparent recalibrations of trustworthiness through biometrics, but banking is expanding in the sense of creating value through intensifying its informational access to the already included by demanding of them new biometric links to their basic information. I will term this the double expansion, of persons included within the embrace of formal finance capital and of persons included within the economy of “basic information.”

(2) I lack as of yet adequate details of the “doorstep banking” programs that the photograph records. Of note is that this photo, part of a microfinance NGO’s self-audit and promotional materials, includes as obvious and necessary to the scene an act of biometric registration: a woman is having her fingerprints electronically taken through a mobile device “at the doorstep.” In a conversation we had at a conference at Berkeley organized by my colleagues Ananya Roy and Raka Ray, Ravi Sundaram of the Center for the Study of Developing Societies and Sarai pointed out that people’s lives are being saturated by a plethora of biometric demands, not only by UIDAI for the Aadhaar card. Here we have a microcredit program whose promise of total inclusion (“at the doorstep”) involves apparently parallel biometrics. From “a million mutinies now,” we seem to have slid into the age of a million biometrics. What remains in question, for me, is how this multiplicity of tracing will stand in relation to UID’s promise, or if you like threat, of universal de-duplication.

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One thought on “Aadhaar and “Financial Inclusion” on the doorstep: Biometrics and the double expansion of poverty capital

  1. Since economic crisis happened and almost all the economy of almost every nation in the world were heavily affected by it, it’s not surprising that up until now they are still struggling in putting everything back in its normal phase. But there’s still a way in which you could save these economies from collapsing totally because right now there’s this so-called offshore banking in which the business owner or a person could invest some of his assets and properties. In this way, one could avoid their own businesses from falling apart and from being affected in any instability on the economy.

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