In Dream Valley, the poor have many homes: duplication and tuberculosis in real time

A brief comment today riffing off of a set of lectures and seminars given by sociologist and anthropologist Veena Das at Berkeley a few weeks ago. Das and many colleagues have long worked in several slum areas in Greater Noida, an extensive area of urban development including large tracts of slum housing far to the southeast of the older urban core of Delhi.

A different kind of Greater Noida address

This work has long troubled the sufficiency of figures of “the poor” and “the slum” and their presumptive “everyday” reality, through long-term weekly and monthly inquiry by a team trained by Das into well-being and illness, income and expenditure, relations to politicians, brokers, bureaucrats, healers, and much more. Through “amplificatory techniques,” these weekly and monthly engagements have produced a dense and complex record challenging the adequacy of much urban slum ethnography that all too moves quickly from (1) single case studies, in or across widely separated moments in time, to (2) generalized accounts of “the poor,” of conditions and of processes in the slum. What Das has argued is needed is a very different form of research.

One of my concerns in this emerging project has been “duplication-from-below.” UID/Aadhaar is premised on ending “leakage,” regularizing and rationalizing state (and increasingly privatized) development and basic entitlements enabling life with an (allegedly) incorruptible ID card that uses biometrics and big data to eradicate all “duplicates” — that is, to end cheating with duplicate IDs. Duplication-from-above is the diversion of entitlements by a powerful “nexus” (usually named as politicians, parties, land mafia) that creates a phantom population in order to siphon benefits on a massive scale. Its opposite in formal terms is a duplication-from-below by which less empowered people get by with multiple (“duplicate”) ration cards, false (“duplicate”) addresses, and so forth.

De-duplication, the new order of information promised under Aadhaar/UID, is of course premised on ending both. If the new order threatens livability by depriving more marginal persons of the tactical resources of duplication, the benefit will be the legitimate flow of currently throttled entitlements and greater wealth and health for all. Or so the promise of the card is framed.

One could look at life in the areas studied by Das, her colleagues, and their research team as intensely “duplicated-from-below.” But the rigor of the amplificatory method they employ has allowed them to place what I term duplication in real time, as it were.

Let me give an example of duplication, from a paper by Das, and how it might conventionally be read. Then let me apply the discussion she offered during her Berkeley visit to rethink the problem of the duplicate in time.

Hospitalization through duplication

The example comes from an essay entitled “TB and Urban Poverty: An Essay Critical and Clinical” that can be found on the web. It centers on Meena, “a resident of a cluster of jhuggis (shanties) in the industrial area of Noida.” The cluster or slums is specific in several ways: (1) Waves of settlement: “The residents of the jhuggi settlement in our sample had arrived in waves – the earliest settlement can be traced to forty five years ago. Subsequent movements have followed networks of kinship and village affiliations.” (2) Complexity of the multiple norms structuring informal rights in land: “The settlement is an unrecognized colony which means that the residents do not have a legal right to the land but complicated customary norms have evolved here as in many other slums of this kind, so that people have ‘bought’ land and built jhuggis on this land.” I will return to this complexity as a particular condition of duplication: given the lack of a formal norm of occupation of land, provisional and contested norms proliferate. (3) Eviction stay, election cycles, and perennial hopes of formalization of rights in land: “The residents have also registered themselves as a scheduled caste association … [which] has enabled them to obtain a stay order … [forbidding] the government to take over their land unless alternate housing is provided to them. The government policy on this issue has vacillated over time but with each election, as residents are courted by candidates, they become hopeful of getting rights to pakka (i.e. built with bricks and cement) housing in a ‘recognized’ colony.”

Some initial context is offered on Meena: (1) Household: she lived “with her husband, two young sons and the husband’s father.” (2) Family tensions: “Her two sisters were married to the two brothers of her husband but relations between them were fraught with conflict.” (3) Employment and income:  “Meena’s husband and his father were both employed by a contractor in the U.P Water supply department as cleaners. Thus they had a stable but meager income throughout the period of our study which meant that small amounts of cash were available to the family, though this cash was never adequate for the many demands ranging from food, providing school supplies for the children, as well as money spent on alcohol and tobacco by Meena’s husband.” (4) Clinical expenditure: “there were regular expenditures incurred on medications, especially as the younger son suffered from a respiratory ailment.”

The fieldworkers’ account of Meena’s TB shifts. Initially in 2000, “Meena had reported that her first episode of TB occurred three to four years ago. At that time she said that she took medications for a long time – perhaps seven months, perhaps one year.” But later “she said to one of the fieldworkers that she had TB for the last eight years which had ‘never been cured.’ She described a complicated story in which first, she talked about a breast abscess after her child’s birth, a minor surgery as well as fever, cough and weakness.” The earlier period of TB occurred when she was still in the village. Meena took medication until she became asymptomatic or even remaining weak given the lack of money. After she went to a local BAMS [Ayurvedic Medicine] practitioner who gave her antibiotics, analgesics, and other medicines. Her need to get well was intensified by the fear that her husband was seeing another woman.

Their relation worsened, as did Meena’s health: her husband did not have enough money to get her admitted to a local private hospital but her cousin got her admitted to a government hospital at some distance “under another name in that hospital on the pretext that she was his dependent relative.” She stayed there 6 months. The research team could not find her for some time as her name had been changed: one of her sons also worried that his mother had died. When she returned home, “the hospital discharged her with instructions to complete the course of medications. She was required to go the hospital OPD to receive medication but her husband managed to get her name transferred to another DOTS center nearer their home.”

Meena’s health improved for two years. Her symptoms then worsened and the researchers took her to a clinic they knew at some distance again from the slum: the doctor there confided that he did not see much therapeutic benefit given likely MDR-TB [multi-drug resistant TB]. Again the distance was hard for Meena’s husband, he “did not want her to be admitted to a hospital so far away from home so they went to another DOTS center by providing a false address. Here again she was dispensed the anti TB regimen under the DOTS protocol but reported serious side effects such as continuous nausea. Her condition continued to worsen, so she stopped taking medications. She died in a private nursing home in December 2003 where she was rushed in the last two days of her life. The family at the end of her life was in debt to the order of several thousand rupees.”

Das’ essay uses Meena’s story to challenge the dominant account of much of the public health and anthropological literature: that stigmakeeps people from returning to clinics and adhering to an adequate course of anti-TB treatment. Rather: “what seems to emerge from the story, instead, is consistent institutional neglect and incoherence. This neglect exists in conjunction with the care and neglect built into Meena’s domestic relations. In the course of three and a half years, Meena took three rounds of TB medication, all under the protocols of TB management in DOTS centers. There was no consistent record of her illness with any of the practitioners. When she was admitted to hospital, she took an assumed name and did not show her previous medical records but even when she used her own name there was no attempt on the part of the DOTS center to ascertain her medical history. In each episode of the disease she completed the course of medications, and was declared to be sputum negative and thus ‘cured.'”

Das suggests that the particular practice used by Meena’s husband to get her into a DOTS program or treatment center closer to home, what I am terming in relation to the language of UID as “duplication,” is also not enough to explain why clinics never treated her in relation to her previous medical history.

Still, a pattern emerges: care from the wage-earning husband is inconstant and Meena depends both on him but on others (her relations, social welfare agencies [here the research team] who use their own connections to get her seen far from home. At some point when her husband becomes involved in her care he moves her back closer to home. These moves may involve a “duplicate” name or address change. Whether or not the care network resorts to duplication, the clinic seldom attends to Meena’s past history of TB in prescribing.

Duplication as access to care?

Duplication-from-below emerges here as a resource–for the relative who moves Meena to a government hospital and for her husband who on two occasions moves her care closer to home.

But Das and colleagues show that whether or not the care network “duplicates” Meena’s identity to get her admitted, her de-duplicated medical file is not utilized.

The context, in which the Government of India’s failure to organize effective DOTS treatment for drug resistant TB has led to calls for UID to be used to deterritorialize TB care and create incentives and demands for de-duplicated patient identity, is critical: in theory, allowing for the mobility of the patient file through UID/Aadhaar could lead to Meena’s information following her clinical trajectory. But the very structures of diagnosis and assessment have produced a body of knowledge which asserts that practitioners, most with substandard or nonexistent training, do not need such long-term mobile knowledge to treat people like Meena.

UID promises de-duplication, deterritorialization, and thus better care. The shifting availability of care from husband/husband’s family and her own family/outsider welfare have demanded that various persons in Meena’s world duplicate her in order to deterritorialize her care. And at some level, heretofore Meena’s duplication or de-duplication does not seem to change the quality of care as the clinic, despite the prevalence of MDR-TB, continues to treat each episode as a singularity.

Will a new demand for Aadhaar that makes duplication-from-below more challenging change the situation in terms of clinical norms of treatment?  The sense one gets from this paper is pessimistic.

The accusation of address

Finally, Das at her Berkeley talks made a point that echoed one with which I began discussing this paper. The complex conditions under which slum residents may make some kind of normative claims on state or corporate or NGO programs lead to the multiplication of addresses. Programs often mandate audits of the informal slum and may find previous systems of house-numbering to be inadequate or untrustworthy.  Numbering systems proliferate. Das described a given slum area that had some 4 or 5 parallel numbering systems each created by a specific agency of slum governance or welfare.

Subject to accusation and continual re-territorialization

At stake in the duplication, that is, may be an intensification of the accusation of untrustworthiness. Slum-dwellers are accused of cheating, of duplication, and are assigned new numbers, a presumptive de-duplication. But each effort to de-duplicate only intensifies the condition of duplication and the accusation.

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Modes of Inclusion (Democratic): Biometric Experiments and Administrative Preserves

[This is the second part of a discussion of the contemporary Indian commitment to electoral inclusion and its possible relation to UID/Aadhaar and the logic of financial inclusion. It draws, respectfully, on a public lecture given at Berkeley’s Center for South Asia Studies by the former Chief Election Commissioner of India, S. Y. Qureshi. For the first part of the discussion, click here.]

Mediated scenes of democratic inclusion

If India’s commitment to electoral inclusion can be narrated through extraordinary expeditions to remote Himalayan outposts and a commitment to providing access to a solitary voter deep in the Gir Forest reserve, a second and parallel theme in Dr. Qureshi’s lecture was the use of multiple modalities of surveillance to ensure access, inclusion, and the prevention of fraud or vote capture within any given polling station.

Much of his focus was on already developed forms of practice, technology, and relationship: the shift at a national scale to electronic voting; the cultivation of what I will call an electoral public, by which I mean persons addressed as co-participants in ensuring the success of democracy, in relation to widely circulating media accounts of the Election Commission (EC) as a resolutely impartial and apolitical and powerful governmental force; and the prohibition of certain officials or party workers from entering the polling place save in their individual capacity as voters.

And much of Dr. Qureshi’s focus was on new relatively low-cost technological practices of surveillance and inclusion: for example, the use of video feeds from phones or laptops to monitor who was in a given polling station.

One area of emerging change he described was the shift to biometric elections.

EPIC identity: Shikandin?

The current voting card, or EPIC [Elector’s Photo Identification Card], includes a face photograph, and the voting process is powerfully associated with the act of leaving a thumb impression, the voter marked by the “indelible” ink on his or her digit.

The EPIC cards and the indelible voter are familiar figures in what I am calling mediated scenes of electoral inclusion. Images of cards and indelibly inked thumbs saturate the Internet. Humorous instances of presumed errors, like the gendering of Mr. Mittal to the right, circulate, producing what my late colleague Alan Dundes would have argued was a kind of contemporary folklore. But the joke here depends upon the general sense of the fairness and truth of representation of the electoral system, its popular standing as a transparent governmental edifice set against the political system and its deep logic of vested interests and of what this blog has been terming duplication.

All thumbs

“Biometrics,” the digitization of presumptively unique bodily information and its incorporation into a new, advanced EPIC, was offered by the former Chief Election Commissioner as an extension of this standing and of the EC’s commitment to fairness and the ongoing de-duplication of electoral practice. I use the UID-Aadhaar imaginary of de-duplication cautiously. It is not the language of the EC.  If the Aadhaar rationale is that government is “leaky” (a figure I have not yet discussed and will return too, when I take up the gender of Aadhaar/UID in preparation for a paper I am writing on the same), that is, full of duplication that diverts entitlements away from the deserving poor as subjects of development, the EC is based upon a narrative of success, not failure. Here biometrics extends an already exceptional condition of state success as opposed to serving as a fix for a continual condition of state failure.

In his public lecture, Dr. Qureshi noted that the EC first tried out the creation of a biometric version of EPIC in the state of Goa: initially in a small sample and then, and successfully, statewide. Goa was an experiment, and its success directs the EC toward a national electoral biometrics.

Dr. Qureshi was asked why begin in Goa, and he noted that the state’s relatively small size made it ideal as an experimental site. He was asked why create a new biometric platform when the massive effort to create an Aadhaar card was being established. He suggested that, at least at the informal level of preliminary consultation, UID was not able to share their data with the EC.

At stake here may be many things. The much reported tussle between Nilekani’s UID and Chidambaram’s NPR establishes biometric databases as administrative preserves, to be protected and tightly controlled and fought over. Both NPR and UID rationales–of security and of de-duplication–presume that information, to be effective in governance, must be guarded and rendered safe from abuses. This conception of information, of course, runs against a powerful set of grassroots movements in India, organized as the Right to Information and its accompanying social audit. I will return in a future post to the contentious future of audit at stake in these differential conceptions of information and governance and entitlement. But here what is at stake is that the very conception of the national database as an administrative preserve — perhaps direly necessary, perhaps tragically mistaken — secretes information, prevents its sharing, and forces a particular logic of duplication: there is UID, there is NPR, and soon EPIC may or may not become a third national biometric nation-as-database.

Modes of Inclusion (Democratic): Electoral heroism

The rather erudite and accomplished S. Y. Qureshi, until this past June (2012) the Chief Election Commissioner of India, gave a lecture this week at Berkeley’s Center for South Asia Studies.

The administrative gesture:              S. Y. Qureshi

Dr. Qureshi’s title was “An Undocumented Wonder: Managing the World’s Biggest Elections.” At stake, in other words, was the management of scale.

And, given the apt description of such enormous scale as wondrous, at stake was what is often termed the sublime. Jawaharlal Nehru famously repositioned the sublime in terming massive dams the temples of modern India. Perhaps elections are the new sublime, the dams of neoliberal India.  And yet elections have been a feature of a national aesthetics for a long time. After the talk I had the opportunity to speak with him at some length.

This post is in conversation with Dr. Qureshi’s formal comments during his talk. Though his informal conversation with me was no less critical in pushing my thinking on biometrics and its associated modes of “inclusion,” I will respect the latter’s informality and confidentiality.

Such caution is not usual for me: I have long argued for an expansive practice in which virtually any encounter is–must be–“fieldwork,”a 24/7 anthropology-as-necessarily-poor-boundaries approach. And obviously, even conversations that cannot be directly represented inform the direction of one’s thinking and work. This growing reliance of mine, however, on caution, withholding discussion, and indirection is I think both a feature of power–of working with high-level officials in situations where both I and they are conscious of the stakes in public representation–and of my own growing dependence on the good will of state administrators as I take on greater responsibility for the Center for South Asia Studies and for research access and funding for students and colleagues.

But I do think that much can be done to think with the formal public lecture, preserving both the hospitality and respect one offers to a visiting speaker and the critical engagement, and again respect, one offers to a reader.

Dr. Qureshi’s comments, accompanied by a power point type slide show, began with accounts of what I will call electoral heroism. I neither use the term ironically nor as paean, but descriptively. Qureshi gave two kinds of examples in which the Electoral Commission [hereafter EC] of India, charged at the Central (federal) government level with organizing, managing, and governing the conduct of elections, went to great pains to ensure that every Indian had access to elections:

(1) situations in which parties of EC workers had to undertake arduous journeys, such as treks over snowy Himalayan paths in Ladakh in weather in which air transport was impossible; and

(2) situations in which even in remote and depopulated areas where only a single voter remained, the EC would establish a polling station.

Radical inclusion: Guru Bharatdas Darshandas, the only voter in Banej in a remote area of the Gir Forest, Gujarat

The effect of such accounts was to remind us of the quality and force of Indian democracy and the at times extraordinary efforts needed to maintain its promise to provide an accessible vote to, quite literally, the last man. In a word, inclusion.

Or last woman: I have earlier written in No Aging in India of the ubiquitous appearance, at election times across India, of news photos of old women hobbling or being carried to the election station or standing at the ballot box, peering at it with the weakened and bespectacled vision of old age. In that book I tried to give something of genealogy for this old woman of the polls, her relation to other figures of old women that proliferate in north India and Bengal over the long nineteenth century. But the simplest explanation for her appearance is the most obvious. In India, she promises, even the most frail or socially marginal person has the power to remake governments and to redistribute power. (Conversely, she can of course be taken in the opposite direction: suggesting that the voter has little more power than a socially marginal and ailing old woman.)

The scene of inclusion: our old woman of the polls

Indeed, Dr. Qureshi showed several such photos of old men and women, particularly women.

It is worth reflecting on the old woman of the polls before proceeding further. She reminds us, first, that “inclusion” is not only a particular gesture of these times of individuated, encompassing neoliberal governance. The newspaper editors who created and circulated her (this image from the late 1980s of an old, frail, bespectacled, and Muslim woman is from the Times of India) were participating in a rendering of the nation-state as a radically inclusive order. She is of course a citizen and the image participates in a particularly Indian secular liberalism founded in the citizen as its ground and promise.

Her form will recur with UID/Aadhaar in a different figure of inclusion but again positioned on an old woman’s body, in scenes of the old woman as marginal subject being de-duplicated by having her irises scanned or photo taken or fingerprint data “captured.”

Inclusion in Guntur, Andhra Pradesh: our old woman of the card

With Aadhaar, of course, the “Resident” has replaced the citizen as the subject of inclusion, as I have discussed at some length in this blog.

Perhaps the most interesting feature of the earlier photo of the old woman of the polls is the disembodied spectral hand, evocative of the Beast’s dream palace in Cocteau’s Belle et la Bête, directing the woman’s gaze and ours to the yawning hole where her franchise is to be placed. Inclusion, we are shown, is here a directed process. Who, or what is the agent, the master of inclusion in the dream palace of the nation’s democratic promise?

Here.

Perhaps, as we move from the old woman of the polls to the old woman of the Aadhaar card, this is the wrong question to ask. Again: what concepts, what understanding of politics and “the social,” of ethics and and of maneuver, might be needed as we move from the national subject as a citizenry to the national subject as a database?

Let me return, in the next post, to the lecture by Dr.Qureshi, and to his thoughts on the future of voting and, indeed, on the value of biometrics for the ongoing heroic commitment of the nation to democratic inclusion.

“So When Should We Set Up Our Camps?”: The UID – NPR Entente Has Trouble

This is the final post for now engaging the January 2012 agreement between promoters of the parallel and competing biometric programs in India, the Security focused NPR and the Financial Liberalization focused UID.

The other biometrics: National Population Register Camp

A recent article posted August 7, 2012, by Sahil Makkar on the website livemint.com [prominently featuring the Wall Street Journal on its masthead], argues that NPR is not doing well and suggests that the terms of the agreement are in question.

If you have been following the career of UID, the news is quite extraordinary. I give the article in full and follow with my usual 3 comments.

NPR likely to be delayed
Decision runs counter to the compromise reached in January that Aadhaar and the NPR weren’t in conflict with each other

New Delhi: The National Population Register (NPR), an identity database being put together by the home ministry, will likely be delayed by at least a year beyond its June 2013 deadline after facing another reversal in its running conflict with the Aadhaar project of the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI), officials familiar with the development said.

The cabinet headed by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has directed the home secretary to take steps to avoid duplication of work with UIDAI and to set up NPR camps in states only after the former completes most of its work of collecting biometric data on an additional 400 million people.

The decision effectively runs counter to the compromise reached on 27 January that Aadhaar and the NPR weren’t in conflict with each other and both projects would run simultaneously.

Minutes of the 7 June cabinet meeting, which were released last month, have been reviewed by Mint.

“With this decision, NPR work has been delayed indefinitely,” said a home ministry official who asked not to be identified given the sensitive nature of the issue. “We had earlier targeted to complete NPR by June 2013 but it will be at least delayed by a year or more.”

The cabinet decision could revive the fight between the two identity projects. The core dispute is over which one of the two will collect biometric data. The home ministry’s position before the January compromise was that UIDAI data could not be trusted for security purposes.

Under the truce reached in January, each project was to use the biometric data collected by the other. In case of discrepancies between UIDAI and NPR data, NPR was to prevail. On 7 June, the cabinet directed Nandan Nilekani to accept NPR data, but asked the home ministry to set up NPR camps in states only after UIDAI finishes a majority of its work.

Home ministry officials said that there was no clarity on the word “majority”. UIDAI’s mandate has already been increased from enrolling 200 million people to 600 million, against the wishes of the home ministry and other departments in the Union government, they noted.

UIDAI and the Planning Commission had sought an extension of the former’s mandate after it enrolled 200 million people, its initial target. That resulted in a turf war between NPR and UIDAI.

“The cabinet decision means we cannot set up NPR camps in the states till the time UIDAI completes majority of the work. So when should we set up our camps—when they complete 51% or 60% or 80% of their biometric enrolment work? There is no clarity. State registrars are writing (to) us for directions,” said a second home ministry official who too asked not to be identified.

The 12-digit Aadhaar number was conceived as a unique identity that would be accepted nationally by banks, telcos, oil companies and other government agencies to serve as a tool to better target social spending by making sure that benefits such as subsidies reach the poor for whom they are meant. NPR’s prime mandate is to satisfy security concerns.

Friction between proponents of the two projects persisted despite the January compromise. Then home minister and current finance minister P. Chidambaram wrote in a 1 June letter to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh that UIDAI was not honouring the truce.

“Despite these directions from the government of India, UIDAI is objecting to the conduct of the NPR camps in certain states and is also refusing to accept the biometric data of NPR for de-duplication and generation of (the) Aadhaar numbers,” Chidambaram said in his letter, which has been reviewed by Mint.

Chidambaram said in the letter that the NPR project was almost at a standstill because of the stance taken by UIDAI.

NPR creation is a statutory requirement and it is backed by legislation. We have to reach every resident in the country as per law even if they have already been covered by the UIDAI. The only difference is that we will not collect the biometrics of the people who have already given the same to UIDAI, but we have to record their other information. People are mandated to visit NPR camps,” the second home ministry official said.

The 27 January compromise hasn’t prevented duplication of biometric data collection, which the government had hoped to avoid. The government will have to spend an additional Rs. 6,000 crore if both NPR and UIDAI insist on collecting biometric data. The second home ministry official admitted it was all but impossible to avoid duplication costs.

The 27 January cabinet decision said the Registrar General of India (RGI), which runs NPR would be free to collect data “as per a schedule of its convenience” in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, Andhra Pradesh, Chandigarh, Daman and Diu, Goa, Gujarat, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, Jharkhand, Karnataka, Kerala, Madhya Pradesh, Delhi, Puducherry, Punjab, Rajasthan, Sikkim and Tripura.

“Now we are only setting up NPR camps in those states like Delhi where UIDAI has almost completed its work. As per the new decision, we are not entering in the state where they are yet to take up work or collecting biometric data,” the first home ministry official said.

The home ministry officials say they are now dependent on state governments for their permission to set up camps because the latter will need to decide whether UIDAI has completed a majority of its work.

A UIDAI spokesperson refused to comment on the issue. “Both UIDAI and RGI are working in accordance with the decision of the government taken from time to time. We are not aware of any difficulty in this regard. We, therefore, have no comments to offer,” R.S. Sharma, UIDAI director general, said in an email response.

UIDAI says it has partnered with state-level registrars for conducting enrolments in the states and that it hopes to enrol another 400 million people in the next 18 months.

Incidentally, the Expenditure Finance Committee (EFC) is yet to clear the UIDAI’s request for an additional sum of Rs. 5,000 crore for enrolment of the additional 400 million people.

“The proposal is expected to be considered by the EFC shortly,” Sharma said.

UIDAI’s second round of enrolment started on 4 August.

UIDAI claims to have enrolled 200 million people and issued 180 million Aadhaar numbers. It has dispatched 175 million Aadhaar letters. NPR has collected data on 710.25 million and recorded the biometrics of 30.95 million.

3 Points:

1) Duplicates upon duplicates! The painstaking effort of Nandan Nilekani and his team to avoid duplication, their liberal dream of de-duplication, is here explicitly threatened by NPR as a duplicate in multiple senses: two parallel databases, two modes of data collection, two parallel staffs, two norms of contract (see last post) etc. The presumption of Nilekani’s UIDAI is that heretofore the State has failed to realize India’s historical potential (cf. Hegel‘s lectures on the philosophy of history): the social contract has failed, as the condition of livability that the sovereign is to ensure for the citizen-subject is inevitably diverted to an inauthentic “duplicate.” The lessons of rationalized, non-familial corporate governance [i.e., bureaucracy proper to its and the nation’s historical potential] and the power of biometrics and big data are brought together to create a database with the power once and for all to de-duplicate the nation.

Bringing India to the end of history: Nilekani as dialectician

But the NPR, from the perspective of the promise of UID, is most likely government as usual, riven with localized “vested interests” forming a nexus with the state and its information-gathering. To allow NPR data to be commensurate with UID data is to ensure the failure of de-duplication, for the NPR data again from this perspective is thought to be always already duplicated: that is, to be formed in the crucible of [corrupt] everyday interest politics.

In this sense, Nilekani and others’ diagnosis of the state as always already corrupt and requiring an uncontaminated intervention is similar to that of the Gandhians and of Nehru, according to Thomas Hansen in his important argument in The Saffron Wave.

[Against the usual opposition of Gandhian work on the body/self/relation [satyagraha] and Nehruvian statist expertise, Hansen as I read him (brutally abstracting a complex argument) suggests their continuity in terms of a form of anti-politics in which everyday political process is inevitably contaminated by the scrum of vested interests. What is needed to rise above the near-Hobbsean state of nature produced by the play of interests is some sublime form of necessarily anti-democratic governance, and both Gandhi and Nehru if in quite distinctive ways turn to Indian civilization as its reason and justification.]

Big data and biometrics and corporate governance, if one draws on Hansen’s language, are the conditions of the contemporary sublime.

Biometrics in particular seem to matter. The sticking point according to the article in the earlier entente between UID and NPR was whether NPR would include biometric data or be more of a conventional census.

2) The irrelevance of cabinet position, the impotence of law: Chidambaram by all accounts is a powerful and canny politician and administrator. And yet his own lament at the deferral and exclusion of NPR and presumptively of India’s security interests [cf. “so when should we set up our camps,” a statement extraordinary in so many ways] suggests he is no match for the Congress government’s commitment to Nilekani and the UIDAI, whether we are to read that commitment as the financial liberalization and technocratic bias of the Prime Minister or as the populism of the Nehru-Gandhi family and their sense that the rationalized entitlement UIDAI/Aadhaar promises is the effective update on the Garibi Hatao [Eliminate Poverty] tradition of their party.

Chidambaram was recently moved from Home to Finance: from the official home that is of NPR to the home of UID. But if that move was in part to force him to back down from his commitment to the security database it has failed. Here he to speak as if he was more responsible for the Home Ministry’s NPR than his current post’s baby.

Once a Home Minister, always a Home Minister

And note his point that NPR is mandated under law. Implicitly he is pointing out, like many critics of UIDAI across the political spectrum, that the latter’s grounding in law is shaky at best. At stake in one sense is arguably a shifting terrain of the formal and legal. Here at least the NPR/UID distinction marks a differential claim on law, a differential logic of law. In part, UID like some other forms of sublime governance operates through the logic of emergency or exception: Nilekani has a cabinet-level rank without the formal limits and protocols of a ministry. UIDAI may be a section of a section of a section of the Finance Ministry, but it is in many situations treated as all but independent. Or so its critics allege.

To bring in the logic of exception, a concept with a familial relation to Hansen’s use of the sublime, may invoke for some the work of Giorgio Agamben and in particular Partha Chatterjee’s use of an Agamben-ish distinction between “civil society” [“bios,” life under law] and “political society” [“zoe,” bare life under exception]. Here the Security apparatus, in the post-millennial United States the sine qua non of the zone of exception as opposed to formal law, becomes on the contrary the embodiment of statute and law and territory. The financial liberalization apparatus is set apart as the troubling extra-legal state of exception.

3) Scale and speed, the mastery of time and the Masses: NPR’s lament is not being able to start. But if UIDAI is responsible for freezing the time of its rival, in doing so it secures the familiar neoliberal claim that the state is inefficient and corrupts time itself. UID here appears phenomenal in capturing millions and millions of persons for their de-duplication, despite reports of old people being illegible to biometric recording and entire states (the Northeast) being zoned for NPR alone. It masters time, or if you like it masters India as the Masses through its use of time. NPR is denied time: or is its lament just the familiar plaint of the development state justifying its failures by blaming others? Such are the stakes of debate produced in this moment.

Invitation to Contract: Assam, Aadhaar, How Governments Now Work

Continuing on a series of posts on the Government of India’s early 2012 decision to keep “insecure” zones of the country like most of the Northeast (particularly its largest state, Assam) out of the Aadhaar/UID biometrics program, to be monitored instead by the more territorialized, security-focused National Population Register (NPR):

Life in the Security Zone: protesters against state evictions, June 2012, Guwahati, Assam

What Is and Is Not in the News

Assam is daily in the news, though the retraction of Aadhaar from the region receives almost no press. Given that Aadhaar has become central to the promissary return of contemporary governance, the card’s appearing to give back secure entitlements to electoral supporters of the ruling coalition (and of the rationalized “corporate-ethical” sector [more on this concept soon] granted increasing control over specific state functions), the withdrawal of this promissary return would seem to generate its own press.  This is absent. I want to understand why.

The first answer is that Aadhaar has become so identified in Assam (and for many across India in relation to Assam in particular) with the “inflitration” of the Bangladeshi migrant into the citizenship and entitlement rolls that its removal generates little remorse among the dominant regional constiuencies of elite media, the media I at this point have access to via the Internet.

But one might expect the emergence of calls for a modified form of biometric registration, one that was not “universal” but separated citizens from mere residents in the dispensation of current entitlement and future promise. At this point I am going to argue that no such calls have emerged that are focused on the “proper” citizenry of Assam or at least no such calls seem to have been able to go public. I may well retract this claim if and when I can find substantial evidence to the contrary.

Such exclusive claims for rights in promissary citizenship in Assam are likely to be of two dominant kinds: rights in law [the Assamese resident and Indian citizen against the illegal migrant] and rights in nature [the Bodo autochthon against the non-Bodo stranger, the latter currently the illegal migrant]. But calls to redraft the form of Aadhaar to shore up these rights do not seem to have intensified with the state’s loss of easy access to UID.

The Assam-focused press is diverse, otherwise. It is devoted to registers of incivility and instability, of state violence and of state welfare in the face of civil violence. It seems both to support and to trouble the anti-migrant sentiment discussed in previous postings. Much national attention on Assam and its capital Guwahati has focused on the recent beating and forced-stripping of a girl in Guwahati this past July by a large group of jeering men, the event apparently captured on video. Many of the responses to the attack on this girl that I have seen on various media are complicit with a racialization of the Assamese as “backward” and somehow categorically unstable: in effect justifying the zonal distribution of modes of biometric control at stake in the division of the country between Security/NPR and Liberalization/UID.

There has been some press as well focused on resistance to government eviction drives against poor urban and rural slumdwellers occupying illegal “hutments.” The news photo above is of a piece with that genre.

None of these events are restricted to Assam–not communal killings, not sexualized violence against women, not the state policy of slum dispossession–but they form part of a mediascape affirming the state’s exceptional status and its exclusion, to use the first pass at a language I developed in the previous post, from the power zone of economic liberalization into the security zone [these terms are not conceptually adequate for many reasons, but for now the point is to focus on a zonal form of doubled or duplicated governance].

Two Orders of Contract?

Most of the documentation available online on Aadhaar in Assam is from the first, earlier moment, before January 2012, the moment when the biometric program’s promise for this marginal state had not been given over to the Security regime of NPR.

Information and reports at least via the Internet quickly dry up after January.

Perhaps the very nature of a security based enterprise like the NPR is that it produces a much smaller penumbra and far fewer traces of itself. Or to put it differently: both security interventions (like NPR) and liberalization interventions (like UID) now depend on a contractual relation between state agencies (like the ministries of home and of finance, respectively) and corporate sector companies to implement the new identity biometrics. But how contracts are established and entered into may differ between power zones and security zones. This post is a first effort to push myself to attend to the specificities of contract in the structuring of government: the emergent history of biometrics, in which twin national database regimes are being established in parallel, suggests that there is not a single pragmatics of contract, a single logic of governance, being crafted.

Having written this, I should note that I do not yet understand how the Interior Ministry’s NPR will work. It is tied to the Census, or has been, so part of the question is the organization of labor, capital, and control of the census over the next decade. I am in part assuming that security apparatuses, no less than other state functions, have throughout the world been given over to contract with privatized capital. But I should be cautious.

A second note of caution: the January 2012 entente between NPR and UID, between Security and Finance, between the Home Ministry and the Planning Commission, involved the powerful then Home Minister Chidambaram, who has recently again been given the Finance Ministry, a position he had earlier occupied. In other words, if the late 2011 struggle over the nation cum database focused on the tussle between these two ministries and presumably their distinct forms of governance over security and economy, how do we understand the movement back and forth of this powerful official?

Chidambaram aside, the very presence of two parallel such logics of governance and two parallel programs of biometric ID may suggest a second order of contract, not the contract between the state agency proposing and the private company executing one or the other mode of biometric inclusion but rather the contract governing the relation between two two orders or modes of registering people biometrically, of financial liberalization versus security.

What Was: Traces of the Earlier Promise of Aadhaar for Assam

The text for today is an RFQ, a Request for Quotation [that is a bid for contract] put out by the Government of Assam in the earlier phase of its relation to Aadhaar. For now I cite only a few small sections.

Invitation to Contract?

GOVERNMENT OF ASSAM DEPARTMENT OF PANCHAYAT & RURAL DEVELOPMENT
TENDER NO. – DPRD/P/183/09-10/127
REQUEST FOR QUOTATION: FOR SELECTION OF UID ENROLMENT AGENCIES FOR THE UID PROJECT (PHASE I) OF GOVT. OF ASSAM
Date of Release of RFQ: 24th Dec, 2010
Date of Pre bid meeting: 10th Jan, 2011, 1430 hrs
Last date of Submission of Bid: 21st Jan, 2011 (Up to 1500 hrs)
Date of Opening of Bid: 21st Jan, 2011 (1600 hrs)
TABLE OF CONTENTS:
Vol I: Instruction to Bidders
Vol II: Scope of Work
Vol III: Standard Contracts

Initially in the first phase, the UID project will be implemented in 5 (Five) districts of Assam, i.e Jorhat, Dibrugarh, Sonitpur, Sivasagar and Tinsukia. The Panchayat and Rural Development Deptt. will be Registrar for the districts of Sonitpur, Sivasagar and Tinsukia. Food and Civil supplies Deptt. would be Registrar for the project in Jorhat and Dibrugarh. Accordingly the districts have been clubbed in 2 schedules. The Registrar will implement the project in their districts block wise. Commissioner, P& RD as convener of the sub-committee for selection of Enrolment Agencies is inviting bids for both the schedules.

Under the project all KYR demographic and biometric data as per UIDAI standard would be captured from all residents. In addition data under KYR+ standard as detailed below would also be captured along with KYR data from residents.

The KYR + fields include –
1. Bank Account (which includes Post Office Account also)
2. Job Card No. under MGNREGA
3. RSBY No.
4. BPL (ID)
5. TIN No. (Census)
6. Ration Card No. (AAY/BPL/ FIC/ APL Card)
7. Profession (Service, Self Employed, Cultivator, Labour, Student etc.)
8. Panchayat Name.
N.B.: There might be addition of 4 to 6 more KYR+ fields in the data to be captured which will be notified later. The Project is expected to enroll around 69.26 lakhs residents [6.926 million] by 31st March 2012 (as per projected figure of 2010 population).

2.2 About UID Project
The Government of India (GoI) has embarked upon an ambitious initiative to provide a Unique Identification (UID) to every resident of India and has constituted the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) for this purpose. The timing of this initiative coincides with the increased focus of the GoI on social inclusion and development through massive investments in various social sector programs, and transformation in public services delivery through e-Governance programs. The UID has been envisioned as a means for residents to easily and effectively establish their identity, to any agency, anywhere in the country, without having to repeatedly produce identity documentation to agencies. The enrolment is voluntary, More details on the UIDAI and the strategy overview can be found on the website: http://www.uidai.gov.in

The widespread implementation of the UID project needs the reach and flexibility to enroll residents across the country. To achieve this, the UIDAI is following a multiple registrar approach and proposes to partner with a variety of agencies and service providers (acting as Registrars, Sub-registrars and Enrolling Agencies) to enroll residents for UID. By participating in enrolling residents, registrars and enrolment agencies across the country would be part of a truly historic exercise, one which can make our welfare systems far more accessible and inclusive of the poor, and also permanently transform service delivery in India.

In this context, the Registrars shall engage enrolment agencies empanelled by UIDAI for carrying out the various functions and activities related to UID enrolment such as setting up of enrolment centers, undertaking collection of demographic and biometric data for UID enrollment and any other data required by the Registrar for the effective implementation of their projects. This Request for Quotation document is intended to invite bids from only those agencies which are empanelled by UIDAI for undertaking demographic and biometric data collection for enrolment of residents.

That was the prefactory material in the RFQ. 3 quick points, bearing in mind that these suggestions about variant logics of contract are very tentative on my part and far from fleshed out as a conceptual field:

1) Throughout this blog, I have been fascinated by the diagnosis of corruption in history at the core of UID biometrics, that of duplication. The awarding of contracts is among the more important sites of corruption globally and marks many previous and still simmering Indian corruption cases. So the question of variant pragmatics or logics of contract with which I began also raises a question of the “corrupt” duplication of these. Putting it more baldly: when is the invitation within the form of the RFQ in bad faith? How in practice are contracts awarded, entered into, monitored, and broken? If as in many cases of state contracts, the RFQ is a formality and the decision as to which company is chosen is determined by other means (so-called cronyism or what in India is usually called “the nexus,” for example), might we speak of the actual contract as a “duplicate” of the fair and formal contract promised by the RFQ?

2) This particular Assamese invitation [pre-January 2012] to contract may be in bad faith in a second way. Presumably, the aggressive rolling out of UID noted in this document was later shelved with Assam being declared proper not to UID but to NPR: companies invited to bid, and in so doing to invest in becoming registrars, were thus left without a growing market of persons considered proper to UID registration.

3) The document refers to KYR and NYR+ as two sets of information fields that UIDAI-contracted companies collect. From the last post’s documentation, we know a primary difference of UIDAI and NPR is that the latter will collect far more information. In the terms of territorialization and deterritorialization used earlier, UIDAI has more of a deterritorializing imperative.

KYR often stands for Know Your Resident. It is one of a proliferating series in corporate jargon of what we might call the KYX imperatives: Know Your ——. Know Your Customer, Know Your Client, and so forth. The form has been taken to with a vengeance by both business and government agencies in Anglophone India. On the web, one finds sites devoted to Know Your Mobile India, Know Your Visa, Know Your Assessing Officer, and many dozen others. The many ID numbers one receives in moving through the Indian bureaucratic and financial landscape can be accessed through KYX sites: thus Know Your PAN, Know Your TAN, and so forth. There are a range of sites named as Know Your India.

Know Your Resident is an important component of Aadhaar’s relation to territory and its ability to minimize the number of locational fields in service of its vision of liberalization and labor and entitlement rationalization. One apparently non-official site notes: “The strong authentication that the UIDAI will offer, combined with its KYR standards, can remove the need for such individual KYC [Know Your Customer] by banks for basic, no-frills accounts. It will thus vastly reduce the documentation the poor are required to produce for a bank account, and significantly bring down KYC costs for banks. The UIDAI will ensure that the Know Your Resident (KYR) standards don’t become a barrier for enrolling the poor, and will devise suitable procedures to ensure their inclusion without compromising the integrity of the data.”

Again, “Resident” like “Citizen” is effectively placed under erasure by UID/Aadhaar. That is, Aadhaar uses the promise of biometrics to produce a political subject that is resists nomination either as citizen or non-citizen, and yet, the opposition does not go away but hovers in much of the positive and negative discussion of the program. Aadhaar promises both to deterritorialize entitlements, severing the link of access to state programs from the natal or family village and all of the regressive entailments of native place, and to create effective territorialization for Banking, in the sense that the biometric “Resident” will somehow provide the trustworthiness enabling banks to advance credit to marginal actors. How exactly a subject is produced both not in place and in place, both as citizen and as resident, is I think a matter for engaged observation, aka “fieldwork.”

Bodo-Muslim Violence and the Question of Identity Cards for Assam: Security as a Negative Condition

Some months ago I posted about the complexities of the UID/Aadhaar biometric program in India’s northeastern states, areas often marginal to Delhi-based national politics. Given that professional anthropology plays a large role in the institutions that organize and govern the racial and cultural presumptions of “tribal” identity across the Northeast, one could argue that the anthropology of the new biometrics bears a particular kind of responsibility to a different kind of engagement in relation to conditions of identity there. Meanwhile, time has not stood still and Assam again dominates the Indian news as a site of intense and upsetting “communal violence.”

Help: Charities in the new refugee camps

Months ago, my focus was threefold: (1) on concerns in the state of Assam that illegal Bangladeshi migrants would use the “residence”-based registration of UID to become citizens, de facto or de jure; (2) on efforts in the state of Tripura to rival the southern hi tech powerhouse Andhra Pradesh in number of persons registered, and how these might relate to the (legal) Bengali-migrant dominated state’s efforts to evade the peripheral condition of the tribalized Northeast; and (3) on reports in the state of Mizoram that some Christian pastors had been challenging the UID/Aadhaar “number” itself as the the apocalyptic “mark of the Beast,” raising both familiar and new questions about the occurrence of millenarian realities.

Even as I was writing those earlier posts, concerns over migration and their relation to the long apparent “instability” of Assam had led to the extraordinary move of shelving the entire project of UID in the state, or so reports (like the one I cite below) noted last January (2012). If so many minimal entitlements are to be tied to the card and number, then what it means for an entire state and its territory to be excluded from Aadhaar and its great promise (or, for its many critics, to escape the surveillance and exploitation of the program), is quite important to consider: both for Assam and its own out-migration, and more generally for its economic and political relations to the rest of India.

Over the summer of 2012, Assam has been daily in the news for intensifying waves of conflict over which groups have rights in land and legitimacy, joining debates over recent Bangladeshi migrants to relations between non-tribal and tribal communities to the many descendents of earlier, multiple migrations. Particularly at stake are relations between the Bodos, who were after longtime struggle granted certain rights over four districts in the state, and Bengali Muslims and Hindus, some of whom are and some are not “illegal” but whom a national political discourse at times identifies as illegal Bangladeshi Muslim migrants tout court.  Large numbers of killings have occurred, of Bodos and migrant Hindus but particularly of migrant Muslims (though I cringe as I write this for its vagueness is unacceptable: understanding where and how the killings have occurred and with what backing is critical. There are many scholars whose current work I will depend on, including Malini Sur and Garga Chatterjee). At present, camps for the large numbers, particularly  Muslims, who have fled for their lives have been set up in lower Assam, both local and religious charities and international humanitarian organizations appeal for needed resources to ensure food, clothing, water, and medication, and the state is trying to urge frightened and unwilling people to return to these contested villages with promises of secure if heretofore dodgy governance.

Even before the killings intensified and the refugee camps had to be established, UID/Aadhaar had not featured prominently in past months of the English-language press in Assam that is available via the Internet (but that admittedly is a restricted field). Given that what dominates the press are variant framings right now of Assam’s exceptional status, it seemed useful to return to the question of identity, particular amid the current moment in which a different form, the humanitarian camp and the basic emergency “kit” (see the work of Peter Redfield) dominate the organization of the minimal entitlement. So how do camps relate to Universal ID as forms of rationalized entitlement and control?

This at least is a question to gesture towards.

For today, I offer an earlier article from last January, announcing the exceptional status of Assam vis-à-vis the Aadhaar number, from the Assam Tribune of January 28, 2012.

Aadhaar cards unlikely to be issued in Assam
NEW DELHI, Jan 27 – The Aadhaar cards issued by the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) are unlikely to be rolled out in Assam and other North Eastern States, barring Tripura and Sikkim. A meeting of the Cabinet Committee on Unique Identification Authority of India related issues (CC-UIDAI) chaired by Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh decided to limit the issue of Aadhaar cards to 60 crore [ 600 million] population spread over 16 States and Union Territories. In the rest of the States, the national identity numbers would be issued on the basis of the National Population Register.

Briefing newsmen, Union Home Minister P Chidambaram and deputy chairman of Planning Commission Montek Singh Ahluwalia said that in all cases the NPR data base would prevail. However, Aadhaar numbers would prevail in those States where it has been issued. And in rest of the States, the NPR exercise would continue.

The States where the Aadhar cards have been rolled out included Andhra Pradesh, Goa, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, Jharkhand, Karnataka, Kerala, Uttar Pradesh, Delhi, Maharashtra, Sikkim, Puducherry, Tripura and Rajasthan among others.

UIDAI uses information on five fields, while NPR seeks information on 15 fields. The entire exercise of issue of NPR is targeted for completion in 18 months by June 2013, said the Home Minister.

The Cabinet meeting called today to resolve the differences between the Home Ministry and the Planning Commission over the issue of Aadhaar cards and the national identity cards, worked out a compromise formula, under which the limit of the Aadhaar cards have been fixed. The Home Ministry has now been mandated to carry out the NPR project in rest of the States.

About the security concerns flagged by the Home Ministry, Chidambaram said that UIDAI has agreed to review all the information it has collected. At the moment they have agreed to review the entire process to address all the security concerns.

The security concerns included the possibility of the cards falling into the hands of the illegal migrants and subsequent misuse of the cards to avail of the government schemes. The infiltration prone North Eastern States including Assam, were particularly referred in this regard.

3 points.

(1) At stake, as noted in an earlier blog post, is the contest that had come to a head at the beginning of 2012 over the control of the national identity database between the security focus of the Home Ministry and the liberalization focus of the Finance Ministry. The Home Ministry, then under the powerful Chidambaram, officially won that battle with its census-driven “National Population Registry” [NPR] named as the ultimate arbiter of de-duplicated universal ID. But the article reveals that India is in effect divided into two: what I will term power zones and security zones. Power zones comprise the wealthier South and the politically powerful Hindi-heartland North. Security zones are insecure border states, though notably not Rajasthan, and insecure insurgency states, though notably not Jharkhand where several UID/Aadhaar programs targeting the elderly were first rolled out.
Assam and the north-east (minus the exception-to-the-exception Tripura) are here framed as the sine qua non of the insecure condition and the core of the NPR and its security zone.

(2) In the wake of the earlier massacres, and amid ongoing killings, local state and district government is trying to encourage the refugees from the Bodo districts to return, with promises of normalcy. What kind of normalcy is and can be expected in the security zone? Famed for the wealth of tea plantations, dependent upon the rationalized and secure labor of the Bengali migrants, one might imagine the Bodo lands economically as power zones: but the history of modern Assam and its racialized state governance and anti-state struggle belie that.

(3) Universal ID began as a Security measure: the conundrums of the liberal-security state led to its capture by the Planning and Finance people. The latter promised far more than Chidambaram, who really seemed to offer at best the status quo of security but not the neoliberal version of universal development. But Security as a state concern remains vital, and now despite the political efforts to commensurate the two data-gathering massive enterprises they seem to remain split, and perversely duplicated. That is, the very promise of the de-duplicated future has led to a massive duplication in the imaginary of the nation as database. If UIDAI/Aadhaar stands for the new conditions of the neoliberal social, that is of the promises of development in the aftermath of the failed planning state, Security has become the negative of that promise, and the two are kept distinct through the establishment of what are in effect two parallel zones of government by distinct ecologies of information.

UIDAI: Chidambaram, Nikelani and the struggle over the master database

[The blog disappeared for a month as its author and editor was caught up in other tasks. Nonetheless, it was useful in shaping a talk I gave to a gracious and patient audience–given how new the material is–at Emory University. Some of the questions raised at that talk will organize the next several posts and their inquiries, once I finish edits on a final paper over the next few days.]

Contending databases make the nation

If Universal Identification as a project promises the end of corruption and therefore of poverty through the de-duplication of the Indian population envisioned as a database, then political contests may shape up as contests over the control and design of the nation cum database.

At stake in high level ministerial contests over Aadhaar [the new national identity card] and the Universal ID Authority of India [UIDAI] creating its administration is not only control of a single national database of population but a contest over different, contending databases of the nation.

Here is a brief article from January 2012 found on a website and web “magazine” named Asian Women. The site masthead shows a line of female forms in paper-cut silhouette–young, fashion-plated, leggy, promising their irresistible relation to the commodity form–and the article is direct political reportage. I have corrected confusing spelling errors.

You've come a long way, baby

Some context: Months of reports of struggles over UIDAI at the Cabinet level, particularly by the powerful Home Minister P. Chidambaram. A recent “truce.”

Nilekani’s biometrics battle: Details of the truce

Friday, January 27th, 2012

Nеw Delhi:  Thе Cabinet today has officially sanctioned thе terms οf a treaty between Nandan Nilekani and Home Minister P Chidambaram. Thе two departments had been battling over the issue of biometrics – the right to scan India’s eyes аnԁ fingerprints.

Thе compromise gives both the Home Ministry and Mr Nilekani’s UIDAI (Unique Identification Authority οf India) thе power tο collect biometrics. Mr Nilekani, whο hаѕ already collected the data fοr 20 crores [200 million persons] has bееn authorised tο gather biometric data fοr a further 40 crores [400 million]. Hе had questioned for the money and sanction tο enroll аƖƖ Indians. Thе problem so far was that the same data was also being collected bу the Home Ministry for the National Population Register or NPR, which when completed, will be the world’s largest biometric database.

Thе expenditure and effort іѕ massive. Sο both sides hаνе bееn told tο avoid duplication. Mr Nilekani’s team, whісh hаѕ made noteworthy movement іn states like Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka аnԁ Kerala wіƖƖ plough ahead there. And the Home Ministry wіƖƖ accept thіѕ data fοr thе NPR, whose main purpose іѕ tο ensure records οf all residents fοr internal security. Thе Home Ministry’s biometrics exercise wіƖƖ focus οn areas whеrе thе UIDAI has nοt begun work ѕο far. Anԁ whіƖе enrolling fοr thе UIDAI remains voluntary, signing up fοr thе NPR іѕ mandatory for all residents.

Earlier, thе Home Ministry hаԁ said thаt UIDAI’s data wаѕ nοt entirely sound; іt had аƖѕο articulated doubts аbουt hοw thе confidential data wουƖԁ bе protected. Now, thе ministry hаѕ bееn tοƖԁ thаt іf thеrе аrе аnу contradictions, іt’s biometric information wіƖƖ supercede thаt οf thе UIDAI. Thе National Population Register wіƖƖ serve аѕ thе master database.

Mr Nilkani’s request tο enroll more Indians hаԁ upset thе Home Ministry, allegedly bесаυѕе іt perceived a trespassing οf іtѕ turf. Bυt Mr Nilekani, whο wаѕ given Cabinet minister rank when he left Infosys tο head thе UIDAI, has also according tο insiders, bееn caught іn thе crossfire between thе Home аnԁ Finance Ministries, whose rivalry іѕ nο secret. Thе UIDAI іѕ a sub-set οf the PƖotting Fee whose parent is thе Finance Ministry.

Three points:

(1) MASTER DATABASE:The results of what is astonishingly framed as a treaty (between ministries, not nation-states, after all) is a “Master Database” to be controlled ultimately by the Home [Interior] Ministry, not UIDAI (or its apparent supporters in Finance).

The material of this database are “biometric” data.

What is at stake here is pretty incredible. UIDAI and Aadhaar, as this blog has been at pains to think through, comprise a promissary entity offering nothing less than the end of corruption and thus the end of poverty through the presumption that corruption is caused by the duplication of persons within the form of a database. Such corruption works through the misdirection or capture of rights and entitlements toward ‘duplicate’ [false, made-up] populations and persons. Such rights and entitlements, offered as a sovereign gift by the development state and its successor forms , become a gift given instead to all the false “duplicate” persons that the powerful [corruption from above] and the pauperized informal sector [corruption from below] presumptively produce through the creation of duplicate identities in the databases of the nation. UID promises a radically deduplicated nation-as-database by combining new technical database design and the political will of a neo-liberalized corporate efficiency model.

But if UID itself as this article suggests is but one of two “duplicate” projects projected as a Master Database, the very locus of deduplication is itself always already duplicated.

One of the two projects is UID. UID at some sites depends on the other project, the census, in its current form the NPR [National Population Registry, also based on biometrics], controlled by the Home Ministry.

We have already seen how “communal” debates in Assam are organized around the threat that a “residency” based database [the census] will be used to create a “citizenship” based database [UID, which is to regulate the rights and entitlements of citizens], of concern in a situation where media conditions of what I have elsewhere termed ethical publicity renders the illegal migrant a site of affective intensity as a threat diverting the sovereign gift by the state to its proper citizenry. In other words, concerns over illegal migration want to keep the database of Residency [needed for Security] and the database of Citizenship [needed for the just distribution of state goods] separate.

But the Home Ministry, given its formulation of Security concerns, wants to unite these under a Master Database. And, despite the concerns of many at the center and on the [Hindu] right, this formulation of security seems to collapse citizenship [UID] into security [census].

Let’s take a step back. All this has some presumptions we might want to specify. Here is a start.

(i) The population is a database

(ii) Government is government of a database

(iii) Two contenting visions of data government are at stake in this struggle between UIDAI and the Home Minister. The home ministry’s concern is Security. The master database enables the State to have exclusive knowledge of the population as a database: the State creates the knowledge, possesses the knowledge, uses the knowledge, and secures the knowledge. The UID Director’s concern is efficient distribution of rights and entitlements through the De-Duplication of identity: this involves Universality [everyone must be covered], Comparability and Open Access to databases [enabling registrant agencies to compare biometric and biographical data with all known databases to de-duplicate false persons].

In this “treaty,” Security apparently trumps Universality and De-Duplication. But the details are not clear, at least here.

(2) COLLABORATIVE GOVERNANCE?: The treaty presumes sharing is possible. It divides the national geobody into 2 zones, of high UID coverage-to-date, and low coverage. In high coverage zones, UID is to be the source of biometric authority comprising the Master Database for those regions [but controlled, now, by the Home Ministry and its National Population Registry [NPR] census].In low coverage zones, NPR will remain the source of authoritative biometric data.

A classic high coverage zone has become the “developed” southern state of Andhra Pradesh [but see also the claim of Tripura, in the Northeast]. A classic low coverage zone is India’s most populous and politically central state, Uttar Pradesh. The latter is identified through multiple media as the locus classicus of “corruption.” Holding onto the idea that corruption is a matter of de-duplication, what we have in the new biometric sharing treaty is a sharing of low-duplication data with high-duplication data. This duality is worth thinking with.

(3) BIOMETRICS AS THE NEW DATA, AND THE BIOMETRIC TREATY FORM: The treaty is literally over competing biometrics. That of UID has become well known: newspapers and TV for several years have been saturated by images of people having their biometric data taken. The NPR’s commitment to biometrics is perhaps more obscure: this blog needs to understand it.

[next post will be, I think, KARGIL 1: THE BIRTH OF NPR]

NPR, the master duplicate