“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.


The fragility of fingers: UIDAI and debates on the locality of biometrics

If one theme that links the identity crisis of the Shah Rukh Khan film Duplicate to the system of positions of UIDAI is the threat of duplication for both the state and the good citizen, another is the potential destruction of the body itself, eroding or violating the body’s ability to correlate with the uniqueness of the biometric identity card. Remember in the film that the villainous duplicate of the hero burns both his thumb and that of his captive

[ photo source: http://www.findbiometrics.com/articles/i/9041/ ]

double in order to prevent the police from using the ID card to discover who is the original and who the nakli [false, duplicate] registrant of the card.

A similar theme emerges both within the massive literature critical of UIDAI as well as in the technical and entrepreneurial practices organized in relation to the UID. Take the following article published in October of 2011 on the news blog Firstpost [http://www.firstpost.com/politics/aadhar-indias-vanishing-fingerprints-put-unique-identity-in-question-115144.html].

As usual, I add headings [in italics] to edit and comment on the text.

India’s vanishing fingerprints put UID in question

Pallavi Polanki Oct 24, 2011

Fingerprints are temporal, plastic phenomena

A curious situation has come to light at the UID (unique identity) enrolment centres. Call it the phenomenon of vanishing fingerprints. You see, our unique fingerprints don’t necessarily last a lifetime and they can be damaged or destroyed and, in some cases, even non-existent. And that is not the best scenario for the first-of-its-kind project that endeavours to create a unique identity for India’s billion-plus population based on fingerprints and iris scans (or biometric data).

Investigative study in Delhi

To find out more, Firstpost visited five UID centres in the North West district, which incidentally has the highest enrolments (619,571 and counting) among Delhi’s nine districts since the show hit the road in February 2011, and one centre in North Delhi.

Biometric data can be rated for quality: good to poor

The officials at the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) will tell you that there is no overemphasising the importance of the quality of biometric data to the success of the super ambitious UID, now known as Aadhar project. If the quality of a person’s biometric data is poor, it automatically compromises the authentication of that data by him when he wants to access a service based on his UID.

Poor biometric data is a particularly Indian and socioeconomic situation

So what happens when the data – fingerprints, for instance – are inherently unreliable on account of various biological and socio-economic reasons, some of which are especially relevant to the Indian context.

Fingerprint quality is the “most important” guarantor of effective de-duplication, but we don’t know how it varies at very large scales of data collection and in the “Indian context”

The UIDAI’s Committee on Biometrics in a December 2009 was rather forthright about its reservations on the fingerprint reliability. Titled Biometrics Design Standards For UID Applications (page 4, para 4), it stated, “….two factors however, raise uncertainty about the accuracy that can be achieved through fingerprints. First, retaining efficacy while scaling the database size from fifty million to a billion has not been adequately analysed. Second, fingerprint quality, the most important variable for determining de-duplication accuracy, has not been studied in depth in the Indian context.”

This study suggests poor data — damaged or destroyed fingerprints — is routine in Delhi, especially among the old, among manual laborers, and among children

The findings on the ground were revelatory. Operators and technical experts at the UID enrolment centres confirmed to Firstpost that they routinely came across cases where fingerprints had been damaged/destroyed/underdeveloped. And such cases, they said, were more common among senior citizens, those involved in manual labour (who handle rough objects, for instance) and children (mostly below 10 years of age).

Case study 1: Batuli, a 72 year old woman, wants her “smart card”

Here is an example that Firstpost observed. Batuli, 72, arrived at around noon at the Basti Vikas Kendra, now also a UID centre, in Mangol Puri to get herself a ‘smart card’ everyone has been talking about. (The ‘Aadhar’ brand name hasn’t caught on in these parts of Delhi, with everyone insisting on calling it the ‘smart card’.) The helpful operator with the fancy gadgets helps Batuli to her seat. After her photo is taken, Batuli is asked to place four fingers — one hand at a time — on a green-lit device. Right hand, then left hand. She is, however, asked to repeat the exercise a second time for the left hand. The operator explains. “In some case, we have to scan the fingerprints and Iris multiple times. If it doesn’t pass the required quality percentage of 70 percent (the quality is indicated in percentage terms on the computer screen that is connected to the fingerprint machine), we repeat the exercise up to four times.” Batuli’s hands are then wiped using a cloth and placed back on the device. The exercise is repeated a fourth and final time. But still the same result. ‘Fail’, declares the reading on the operator’s computer. An operator at the next station, says, “In the case of senior citizens, Iris scans also sometime fail. It registers weakly when the retina is damaged.”

Case study 2: Children in Sultanpuri

The project coordinator of the UID enrolment centre working out of the Destitute Welfare Trust, an NGO in Sultanpuri, too, confirmed that he was aware of the problem of damaged fingerprints and the challenge it posed in getting good quality fingerprint data. “The hands of children are very soft and in some cases fingerprints are not yet fully developed. Also, children tend to have sweaty hands and this can interfere with the quality of fingerprints. Extremely dry hands also pose problems. We have to often, wipe the hands or provide lotion to improve the quality of fingerprints,” said a technical expert working with Strategic Outsourcing.

Registrars (private outsourced companies) find multiple failure is routine

While the number of attempts, as prescribed by the UIDAI, to get a stronger finger print when the result reads ‘fail’ is four, operators report that sometimes attempts go up to 10 to 15 (the machine picks up the strongest impression of the attempts made). They say they didn’t anticipate such a problem and it was only when they started enrolments in January that they were confronted with such a scenario. “Now, of course, everybody knows about it.”

Case Study 3: Model town slum: stonecutters

‘Everybody’ implies those who are directly involved in collecting biometric data. An operator from another private company Smartchip working in a JJ (slum) colony in the North Delhi district of Model town, revealed similar problems on being probed.  ”A fingerprint strength of 70 percent or more is pass. About 10 percent of the cases we get every day register the ‘fail’ reading. What can we do? In the case of stone cutters, for instance, the fingers are completely smooth, the fingerprints are completely wiped out.”

Implications: fingerprints are not enough for de-duplication, the iris is needed as well, “residents” need to be educated to know about (and presumably to become responsible for) their “good,” not-yet-degraded fingerprints

So what are the implications of poor quality fingerprints for the UID project? The UIDAI admitted that it could provide challenges to authentication. In an email response to Firstpost, Sujata Chaturvedi, UIDAI’s Deputy Director General for the Delhi region said, “It could provide some challenges in de-duplication although that has been mitigated to a large extent by the decision of the UIDAI to go in for iris an additional de-duplication factor… Also to be noted is the fact that normally not all fingers are equally de-graded. So UIDAI is evolving a protocol to inform the residents about their good quality fingerprints as part of the Aadhaar letter so that they are aware of the finger to use for authentication.”

Expert academic/NGO auditors challenge the accuracy of Indian data for effective de-duplication

But not everyone is convinced. Sunil Abraham is the executive director of Centre for Internet and Society (CIS), which has written seven open letters to the Standing Committee on the Finance Branch (before which is the National Identification Authority of India Bill, 2010) asking the committee to consider their research on the UID project and change aspects of the Bill and the project. The seventh letter sent last week, says Abraham, provides statistical analysis that demonstrates how the UID will never be able to create a unique database. “In CIS’s seventh open letter to the finance committee, statistical analysis reveals that UIDAI tender specification is 1,000 times less accurate than it should be to have a reasonable chance of building a truly unique database. This analysis depends on high quality biometrics. With poor biometric quality the problem of de-duplication is compounded.”

 UIDAI denies the large scale of poor data, but offers no contrastive evidence

When UIDAI was asked what the percentage of the population enrolled (all India and Delhi) had recorded below-standard fingerprint quality, no specific data was forthcoming. Chaturvedi wrote, “Currently the population with very poor quality fingerprints is a very small percentage. It must also be remembered that this population is scattered all over the country.” In India, even a small percentage translates to millions of people. “Small percentage could mean absolutely anything. Why can’t they be more specific? One percent in the Indian context is 12 million people,” said Abraham.

Solution: the iris (in the future); ‘one good fingerprint’ (now); existing [non-biometric] systems

On how the UIDAI was dealing with challenge of poor fingerprint quality, Chaturvedi said, “Even amongst the populace that has damaged/destroyed/underdeveloped fingerprints, chances are very high that they would have at least one good fingerprint that could be used for authentication. Second, UIDAI is also starting to actively develop iris authentication ecosystem. Fingerprint authentication and iris authentication could supplement each other to ensure a universal coverage.” She added that Aadhaar authentication will supplement and work in conjunction with existing authentication systems to strengthen the overall authentication rather than replace completely the existing authentication systems.

But if existing systems shore up the degradation of the body, what is the purpose of the degraded promise of Universal Identification?

That begs the question, as Abraham puts it, “If the UIDAI is not going to replace existing forms of authentication it is not clear why the government is spending all this money on unproven biometric technology.”

‘Proof of concept’ study as guarantor of UID’s promise? UIDAI cites rural implementation as what makes UID achievable

Chaturvedi, however, maintained that the initial PoC (proof of concept) study that was taken up in Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and Jharkhand collected about 60,000 enrolments indicated that the biometric accuracy levels necessary for de-duplication of all residents of India are achievable. “The PoC results also indicated the time needed for capture of biometrics in typical rural conditions is small enough to support large scale enrolment. Over and above the initial PoC, the UIDAI has currently completed over 5 crore enrolments for which Aadhaars have been generated. This experience reinforces the initial PoC results that the de-duplication accuracy is sufficient and sustainable to enrol the rest of the population.”


3 things to keep in mind:

1) On the degradation of the body/sign, its (failed) temporality as opposed to the Universal Time of the ID card itself (the card may be “smart,” as Batuli notes, but “residents” need to be educated about how to be responsible for their fingerprints)

2) On the pedagogy of parts: this is a theme I take up in my work on transplantation, the idea that the “common man” [sic] needs to be educated toward a correct knowledge of and responsibility toward his or her body as a series of parts

3) On the rural “proof” for the “concept” of Universal ID: I don’t know much here yet. But in an urbanizing country, and one in which the theme of the duplicate is often linked to the journey to the city, how both technically and ideologically to assess such a claim seems important.

Duplicate [1998] and the promise and failure of the ID Card

Tuesday January 10

Babloo [Shah Rukh Khan], with his police identity card, from Duplicate [1998]

Before I go further, I want to begin to lay out some preliminary thoughts on the question of the duplicate I broached in the last post.

The film I start with is called, fittingly, Duplicate.  It came out in 1998, and stars the reigning Hindi film hero of that time (and arguably since), Shah Rukh Kahn, in a double role.

The telltale signs of the villager

Babloo, the hero, is portrayed as an unworldly and initially childlike figure who is trying to make a break from his mother (“Bebe”) and his family heritage of professional wrestling in order to be a five-star chef catering to urban and foreign tastes. His limit, and as we will see his charm and strength, is his inability to rid himself fully of the telltale signs of a villager to become the modern man without qualities.

Babloo makes his way in the world, both aided and delayed by Bebe’s village, unmodern ways. He gets a position as a chef in a five-star hotel. He begins a relationship with the banquet manager, Sonia [Juhi Chawla], who prefers him to her more disciplined and modern colleague in the hotel, Ravi [Mohnish Behl].

The man of any form

Manu, the villain, is Babloo’s physical “duplicate.”  After his daring escape from jail, the police begin a manhunt for Manu: he is described as a master of disguise who can take on any rup [form]. In a wonderful scene, the lead police officer shows his men a slide show of photographs of all of Manu’s known disguises: a Catholic priest, a Marwari businessman, and so forth. It would seem that Manu, unlike Babloo, is quintessentially modern: not easily identifiable. And yet he describes himself as a man of certain persistent values: he did not betray his former gang members in prison.

These three gangsters, who used the money Manu helped them steal to start a legitimate and clean [sharif] business as a front, lacked such values: they had double-crossed Manu to put him in jail. They now decide he is a threat and must be killed. The worst of these, Shalakho [Gulshan Grover], calls him a behrupiya, a mimic or impressionist. The subtitles on my DVD copy translate this simply as “scoundrel”: the question of form is lost.

So Manu is a bit more complex: he can erase identifiable traces, perhaps like a modern. But he carries certain values with him that seem the antithesis of a modernity often marked in the world of popular culture as selfishness. He can pass as anything, and yet these roles and forms are all transient. Unlike the other gangsters, he has no sharif exterior.

What the body reveals

Shakhalo is not worried about a confrontation with this shape-shifter: he shows his fellow gangsters that his own palm lacks a line of death.

Mano evades Sakhalo’s trap and kills the latter’s hit man Tony.

The police mistakenly arrest Babloo, until Bebe shows up at the station and berates Inspector Thakur [Tilu Talsania], the low-ranking officer who found him. Bebe brings proof of her son’s identity: a series of family photographs.

Identification papers

This, the second series of photographs in the film, is quite different from the earlier slide show. Each photo is keyed in to family events and, as religious devotion is central to the identity of Babloo and his family (from the film’s first scene onward), some show him in relation to the deity, for example on a pilgrimage.

This officer, who we are led to see as being like Babloo and Bebe a good and simple person, similarly values kinship: he is the brother-in-law of the lead officer, and continually brings this affinity up in the police station in ways the more professional senior man finds inappropriate. This pairing of more modern versus more simple officer is similar to that between Babloo and Ravi, and the film is suggesting that the good man is he who can maintain some relation both to tradition and more global, “five star,” modernity. The theme is repeated in a scene where Babloo successfully cooks a Japanese dinner for a large Japanese group at the hotel, only to have Bebe show up, find the food too bland, and “helps” her son by adding a lot of spices. Babloo and Sonia expect disaster. But the Japanese guests [who Eric Glassgold informs me are speaking Mandarin] are delighted.

If the protestations of a mother’s love and photos linking his face to his family’s and to the image of the deity were enough to identity Babloo and get him released after his first arrest, things get more difficult the second time. Manu, disguised as a television repairman, disarms and kills the first of his three enemies. Shalakho visits the lead officer, having heard that the police let a man go who matched Manu’s description, and reminds him that Manu is a master of disguise. Both men, the modern professional police officer and the apparently sharif gangster, put pressure on Inspector Thakur.  Babloo is rearrested. Bebe has gone off on a great pilgrimage, seeking divine favor to fix the problem of duplication haunting her son, not that her photos would have been enough the second time. Babloo, as Mano, is now notorious: his photo appears in every paper.  The real Mano, in a conversation with his image in a mirror, decides he must use the fact of his duplicate—the ultimate disguise—to his advantage.

But Baloo is in prison and so Manu uses tried and true methods. He kills the second of his enemies by dressing as a beautiful woman and seducing the man to his death. The police now recognize that Babloo, in custody, must be innocent. The senior officer declares him, authoritatively, a duplicate. All the other officers look at each other incredulously, each repeating the English word “Duplicate? Duplicate?” as if it carried specific and technical forensic meaning. Thakur marvels that God [upparwala] must have an amazing “Xerox machine” to have created two such similar men.

How then to tell the two men apart? The senior officer seems to have an insight: his face lights up. He tells Thakur to create an “ID card” for Babloo.  In the film the card is treated as a novelty, unlike Bebe’s photos earlier. Inspector Thakur gives it to Babaloo in a scene underscoring the friendly kin-based sociality of both men (“Dekh bete yeh tera ID card hai”—look son, this is your ID card). The card is a passport-sized red book. Thakur explains its function. “This ID card,” he tells Babloo, is the only thing that can differentiate him from his double: he is told to secure it and keep it safe.

The loss and gain of identity

Babloo now feels secure in his possession of the document. He goes home: Bebe should be back by now from her pilgrimage. The camera shows the insecurity of his ID card: the bright red juts out of his rear pants pocket. Mano, not Bebe, is waiting, along with his henchmen. Babaloo tells Manu that the police have given him an “identity card” to prevent them from being confused in the future. He grabs the card from Babloo and assumes his identity.

The real Babloo, however, tries to reason his way out of the situation. He tells Manu that stealing his ID card will have no effect. The document has his thumb print: the one sign (nishan) that Manu cannot copy as it is inextricably part of the other’s body. Manu takes a lighter and burns off both of their thumb prints, and then goes to meet and woo Sonia and to assume Babloo’s identity with its privilege (that is, Sonia). Babloo must respond by becoming Manu, convincing both his henchmen and his girlfriend Lily that he is the real thing. The main difference between the men now turns out not to be the moveable ID card but their relationship and behavior to women. Mano does not respect women, either as lovers or as kin. It is Babloo’s respect for Lily that will ultimately turn her away from the path of crime she has taken, leading her to rescue Babloo, Bebe, and Sonia from Manu’s clutches in the final scene by killing her lover.

Both sides now

The last scene of the movie shows Babloo and Sonia in their bedroom on their wedding night: the presumption is that now, as a sexually active husband, Babloo can be a little bit of Babloo and Manu. Or conversely, as a wife, Sonia is no longer simply that which must be guarded and protected, like an ID card, to secure Babloo’s identity as the innocent.

3 thoughts

1) Failure: Here the ID card is framed as a radical innovation, requiring a pedagogy of use. If it fails, the film moves between the sense of its failure as residing in Babloo’s unworldly and childish innocence, on the one hand, or the sense that such a form of ID (linked to the rationality of the modern senior officer) can never stand in for the traces of kinship and a relation to the deity.

2) Body: The card works through its biometrics: the thumb print. But Manu works around the problem by violently destroying both Babloo’s thumb’s skin and his own. Identity is only as secure as the flesh, and the film suggests that the destruction of flesh is a mode both of criminal action and its accompanying asceticism.

3) Duality: the film alludes to a rich, complex life of the duplicate within the scene of identification. Scholars like Sudhir Kakar have offered national character accounts of the centrality of the film double to a foundational split in the Indian psyche; postcolonial theorists have drawn on many resources to argue instead for the split as the double consciousness of racialized colonialism. In this film, the police are charged with stabilizing such doubledness: marriage, and its claims on women, seems ultmately to do the trick.

A first way in: one nation, two affects, thirteen body parts

Monday January 9, 2012

I begin reflection on UIDAI by arbitrarily taking a point in time–midway through the year 2010, when I had begun noticing an intensification of global reportage on the project–and thinking through a variety of commentaries and observations appearing then.

The following short summary is neither an expert nor a particularly detailed account. It interests me as it has moved across multiple websites, ranging from the conspiracy-theory-engaged site Godlike Productions (http://www.godlikeproductions.com/forum1/message1613435/pg1) to the “Tyranny in a Police State” section of The Mental Militia Forums (http://thementalmilitia.com/forums/index.php?PHPSESSID=1bb00298007f37b864ad5ff9503f8686&topic=27190.0).

At this point I am not sure what if anything to make of these hosts: my point is not, slyly or otherwise, to assert either that conspiracy theory is needed here nor conversely to denounce such concern as paranoid. Rather it is to suggest that talk about UIDAI, at least on the Internet, often comes bundled up with other things: specific narratives, specific knowledges, specific hermeneutics, specific affects.

The piece appears to be authored by Aaron Saenz of  the futurist science news site Singularity Hub (http://singularityhub.com/2010/09/13/india-launches-universal-id-system-with-biometrics/) and was published September 13, 2010.


India Launches Universal ID System with Biometrics

India has launched an ambitious program to fit each of its 1.2 billion residents with an Unique identification number (UID). Each number will be tied into three pieces of biometric data: fingerprints (all ten digits), iris scans (both eyes), and a picture of the face. Starting this month, the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) will begin processing people in various locations around the country. UIDAI aims to slowly roll out the program through February of 2011 and to ID 600 million people in the next four years! This is a mammoth program. While residents are not mandated to get a UID, a growing list of services including social welfare and even some bank accounts will soon require the identification number. If successful, this will be the first biometrically verified universal ID implemented on a national scale. India is forging new ground, drawing both fears and hopes of what a national ID number may bring with it.


Some notes on the obvious, restricting ourselves to this account for the moment. Since I tend to think in threes, I will restrict myself to three comments for now:

1) The primary agent of this development is framed as the nation state: “India.” Thus, “India has launched an ambitious program….” UIDAI is here not differentiated from the nation-state, despite its particular mix of “public” and “private” resources, expertise, and claims for governance.

We might call the implicit political theory here neo-Samkhyan. Samkhya is the one of classical Sanskrit’s six legitimate schools of darsana, insight or philosophy, that focuses on the emanation of forms from some primary figure of form, energy, or nature, prakrti. Emanations clutter the universe, forcing us into a process of discrimination to achieve clarity. In this web item, however authored, there is a primary source of form, the nation-state, and from it emerge new institutions, here UIDAI.

This framing of “neo-Samkhyan” is provisional at best: what I am attending to is first, an implicit and presumptive form (emanation). If I borrow from the lexicon of the classical Sanskrit cosmopolis, it should be but is probably not obvious that the intent is neither to assert some transhistorical structure of thought or semiotics (“India”) nor to address the state of mind of either this author nor his sources. One works to specify form through analogy, requiring choices. There is a politics to such analogy.

In any event, at the outset, we face the problem of origins in a particular way: what are the uses, and limits, to framing UIDAI as an institution of and from the nation-state?

2) A lot of body parts are needed to produce the assembled collection of biometric data “tied” to each UID number, at least according to this account: two eyes, ten fingers, one face. This plenitude (thirteen, an unlucky number in a different world) of parts is worth mulling over. We will I imagine find that the technical regime of universal identification, its procedures and algorithms, may be somewhat more complex than a simple list of thirteen body parts as traces or data points.

Much of my own work for some years has wrestled, in a different set of global and Indian contexts, on what is a body part.  But the simpler questions generated here are of labor (in order to produce traces of all 13 parts for hundreds of millions of persons), error (given the magnitude of the assembled traces at the national scale), and lack (given that not all persons will have 13 traceable parts: some will have less or more fingers, or burnt fingertips, or missing eyes). In popular Indian film (I will come back to this), identification has often set against the problem of the “duplicate,” someone else who looks exactly like oneself. After I announced the blog on Facebook yesterday a friend wrote to remind me of the very real dangers of duplication: I will address his comments if I can in a later posting. The magnitude of parts here seems like a shoring up, effective or not, against the danger of duplication.

The elaboration, “politically,” “culturally,” of what I am calling such a danger of duplication may need to be a key theme of the blog.

3) This project is framed as both singular and emergent: it is a “first” and it is “new.” This newness may be not only obvious but worth taking seriously. But it is, certainly in the kinds of websites that circulate this news, haunted by other, earlier projects of securing and distributing through universal identification.

As emergent, the project seems to carry a doubled affect: of fear and of hope.  The pairing may or may not be a cliché: how one reports, on websites dedicated to the future.

So, at the outset: one nation, 13 parts, 2 affects.