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.

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.

Part 1 – Citizenship and its archive today: the intensely duplicated de-duplicate

Who or what is the subject of contemporary identity, and what politics ensue in the face of this emergent subject? This question, is the central one that this experiment cum blog seems to find itself addressing.

Zipless encounters with the identification establishment

Before I begin with a comment I will stretch out over two or more posts, I might for this entry recount a conversation I had with a fellow scholar this past week, who was telling me of her experience in signing up for the UID/Aadhaar card. What made it so easy, she said, was that I did not need to bring any documents.

Look how easy!: Bihar leaders show their UID registration papers

Her experience runs against many of the reports of UID registration covered in news articles and elsewhere. For the moment and taking her account seriously, let me presume that the question of using biometrics, big data, and the rationalized and deterritorialized reorganization of welfare to generate trust—the promise of UID in a nutshell—itself enters into a world in which preexisting ecologies of risk and trustworthiness produce differing modes of entrance into UID’s promise.
In the case of this one person, the mode of entrance was entirely friction-free. To borrow a favorite adjective from Erica Jong, it appeared “zipless.”

I am presuming that such zipless encounters are not evenly distributed. But suspending for the moment my hermeneutic of suspicion, the social fact (if that is what it is) of the ease of entrance into Aadhaar is worth thinking with. I will be reading both Akhil Gupta‘s and Matthew Hull‘s recent books in the next few weeks. Both differently attend to the relation of bureaucracy to the materiality and force of the document, extending a conversation Annaliese Riles, Laura Bear, and Emma Tarlo among others have engendered. But the claim advanced to me, by and for a certain kind of subject, was for a relation to entitlement and belonging that required no documents. Whatever its relation to actual practice, as such the claim bears attention.

This scholar made two other points. First, she noted that such zipless ease could be manipulated. It is fine for people like you and I, she said, and I should note that these words are my reconstruction of a conversation some hours after it took place, but others could create duplicate numbers. Her use of the duplicate was perhaps a response to my own mention, earlier, of my growing interest in de-duplication as a mode of governance.

If I am correct in reading the implicit theory of value and the state in the project of Aadhaar as a dual diagnosis of ‘duplication from above’ [the redirection of the common wealth by the powerful through the creation of phantom populations that receive entitlement monies or materials] and ‘duplication from below’ [the redirection of the common wealth by the ‘common man’ or janata manipulating the varied identities given one by the state], then taking this scholar’s concern seriously produces a middle-subject [there must be some useful expression of this in German, say] that can be trusted not to duplicate itself and that can, therefore, be granted ID ziplessly. Or rather, all subjects may variably make claims on their status as such a middle-subject.

My interlocutor made another point. The agency that registered her, pleasant and unencumbered by documents though it was, could answer few of her questions.  Simply put, its employees seemed to have little understanding of the UID number or its use. Their sphere of competence focused on the technical practice of registration and not the afterlife of that enrollment.

For the moment, and as with the earlier points with awareness of the limits of a single conversation, we might define what is at stake here as a particular temporality of enrollment or registration. Aadhaar, that is, may seem to bear a particular relation to the present, with its relation to what after Jane Guyer I will term the near future in question.

If the scholar suggested the limit to a unitary process of enrollment, given the distinction between the middle-subject (always already de-duplicated) and the duplicating, cheating subject, we might attend to how the figure of the Universal Subject of “Universal ID,” the basis [“aadhaar”] of the promise of a national telos of fairness, reason, and wealth, may always already contain within itself a doubling or duplication, a split subject that will threaten to defeat the very project of universalizing, de-duplicating technology.

“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.

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.

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

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

Intensified bank recruiting for “no frills” accounts

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

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

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

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

Simplification of norms

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

De-duplicating migrant patients with tuberculosis: the dangers of “native place”

A set of articles recently sent me by friends have inspired the next several postings. This article was sent by Harris Solomon, from the DNA news website published today, 22 June.

Mycobacterium tuberculosis

UID numbers to record progress of TB patients

To keep track of the number of tuberculosis cases, a unique identification (UID) number was set to be issued to new TB patients from July 15, state health department sources revealed.

The scheme will be implemented across the country and will help doctors mete out the necessary treatment after referring to the digitised records to be available nationally. It will prove beneficial to migrant patients who often fail to avail the complete treatment after they move to their native places.

Dr Mini Khetarpal, TB officer, BMC, said, “This process will help us analyse the situation better. We will concentrate on prospective cases as per directions from the Centre, not old ones. Our officials underwent a day-long training in Pune about a month ago.”

She added that the digitisation program is currently being modified in Delhi after feedback from the World Health Organisation

The new system is specially designed to target migrant multi-drug resistant (MDR) TB patients and help doctors keep a tab on the treatment they have already received. It will also prevent duplication of UID numbers as their Aadhar card number will be mentioned as well.

The state has recorded 1,34,000 TB patients out of which 50% have contracted pulmonary TB for the first time. 25% cases are instances of recurrent TB while the remaining 25% have contracted extra pulmonary TB.

There is a lot here to think through, and as ever with this project one’s knowledge is limited and learning curve steep. For example, the article differentiates the “UID [universal identification database] number” from the “Aadhaar [identity card] number” (huh?) and argues that having both of these is necessarily to resist the threat that this blog has wrestled with from the beginning, that of duplication. So perhaps the next posting can clarify this doubling, assuming the article is correct, of the very number (Aadhaar/UID) whose uniqueness was to guarantee the promise of the de-duplicated nation. As with the earlier tussle between the Finance and Interior Ministries over who controls the national database, I want to suggest a familiar theme, that the Ur-database necessary to guarantee India’s de-duplicated, deterritorialized, de-corrupted promise is itself constantly being threatened with duplicates.

But let’s focus on three issues, as ever, for now.

(1) Biopolitics: at stake, first and foremost, appears to be a presumptively more effective means of health surveillance that can take account of the migrant status of persons taking medication for tuberculosis. TB patients will be registered for UID/Aadhaar. Registration will give doctors both aggregate information and patient-specific information. The latter will enable tracking patients as TB patients migrate.

The direction of migration noted is not rural-to-urban but rather urban-to-rural. Why only urban-to-rural migrants are a problem is not specified. Is there a presumption of less drug availability, less clinical knowledge, less data, or less effective adherence? Interesting that the return to the local “native place” becomes the clinical problem to be addressed.

Rural-to-urban migrants: not the clinical concern?

In my limited experience, patients in urban north India over the decades I have worked in clinical settings were far more likely than in the US to have control over their medical file, producing sections of it in doctors’ offices in order to create a range of desired clinical outcomes: files, that is, in theory migrated with patients anyway. TB differs, possibly for many reasons: adherence control in the face of drug resistance may mandate more intensive surveillance. Mobile medical knowledge, it would seem, can no longer depend upon patient-driven file mobility.

(2) Biopolitics and information failure: In the Maharashtrian case, the article implies that adherence failures and drug resistance may be due to a situation of information failure.

This is an idea worth thinking carefully about: that biopolitics is a matter of information adequacy in the face of certain forms of population migration. It develops the theme of deterritorialization: that UID/Aadhaar enables more flexible relations to place. Here surveillance is no longer a matter of the body fixed in its slum, repeatedly observed. The unit of analysis is now the ID number in a mobile trajectory. Somehow, the return to the village, to the native place, presents a particular clinical-informational deficit that the ID number must supplement.

What might it entail that fleshly conditions become digital conditions? I am not sure that there is much new here: surely the history of medicine long engages the relation of the sickness to the form of its representation.

Digital human lungs, for your consideration

(3) International informational standards: the WHO is positioned as an auditor here, and the Government of India must adjust its digitization accordingly. It would be interesting to think about the international governance of digitization, and how power here is organized and distributed.