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

Advertisements

Mizoram: the Devil, property, and identity fetishism

This will be the last post of a week attending to UID in the Northeast. The previous post, mostly for my clumsy misspellings of a fellow blogger’s name but also given substantive differences in how and why to write about Bangladeshi migration, and admittedly different stakes, generated a small bit of dialogue.

If the themes of the week have been national erasure and migrant threat (Assam) and exemplary mass identification (Tripura), the article excerpted below addresses a persistent theme in reportage on the Northeast, combining figures of backwardness, irrational superstition, and the treatment of minority (here Christian) religion. It simultaneously evokes a genre of anthropological writing on the uncanny violence of capitalist transformation. Here, the ontological insecurity girding the terrifying threat of imminent devilry is not the entry into particular wage economies, but the ways the here closely associated UID and census force together the state control of property transfer and UID/census registration. I was initially cautious in reposting the article: the point is not to reprise the cosmopolitan pleasures of my discipline in securing the uncanniness of life on various margins. Or is it?

News photo: the Bible seems to hover over a Mizoram town

Fear of the Devil holding up census in Mizoram
Wednesday, June 16, 2010
Aizawl : The fear of the ‘Beast’ or the Devil in the Christian-dominated state of Mizoram has caused almost 1,000 families to refuse to enroll their names in the National Population Register (NPR) taken up along with the Census 2011 here from May 15.
The dread stems from Chapter 13 Verse 17 of the Book of Revelations in the Bible which says “… and that no man might buy or sell, save he that had the mark or the name of the Beast or the number of his name.”
The problem has stemmed from the Unique Identification Authority of India stipulating that none one could buy or sell property without the Unique ID card.
According to adherents of the belief, since buying or selling of property made one a follower of the Beast, one having the UID card, which authorised property transactions, automatically made one a follower of the Devil.
Those refusing to be enumerated belong to the Mizoram Presbyterian Church and the Baptist Church of Mizoram.
Champhai District Magistrate Vijay Kumar Bidhuri said when he summoned Lalzawna the leader and high priest of a sect he was told that his religious belief would not permit him to register his name and he was ready to face any punishment.
Serchhip Deputy Commissioner H told that adherents of the belief claimed they had thereligious freedom to disobey the government and were not afraid of punitive action.
“They are not afraid of being prosecuted for their beliefs as they are more afraid of being identified with the Devil,” one enumerator said.
The Presbyterian Church Synod, the highest decision making body of the largest Church in the state on June 13 issued a message to all members asking them to cooperate with census officials as it was the duty of every citizen to do so.
“We (the believers) should not be afraid of the Beast (Devil), rather the Beast should be afraid of us as we believe in God who is more powerful,” the message said.
The Church said that UID was important to identity bona fide citizens of the country and also help in identifying illegal immigrants and terrorists. The Church also condemned people who were issuing booklets about the ‘Number of the Beast’ to terrify church members.
The message of the Presbyterian Church was read out in all church branches in the state, but there were still some who were skeptical, a church elder said.
Enumerators were instructed by District Magistrates of all the eight districts in the state to identify those refusing to cooperate on religious grounds.
The reports lying with five District Magistrates indicated that there were 939 families who have refused to have their names registered in the NPR, official sources said….
District Magistrate Bidhuri convened a meeting for people who refused to cooperate with the census officials on June 11 where only two persons, after being given explanations, agreed to cooperate with officials.
The rest refused to budge from their stand even after the authorities told them that they could be fined up to Rs 1,000 and liable for imprisonment of up to three years.
They were also informed that they could be deprived of their right to franchise, ration cards, works under NREGS and other benefits from the government.
“As they have refused to believe our explanations, we may be left with no other option, but to take punitive action against them,” one official said.
The fear of the Beast is not new among Mizo Christians as many of the sects and cults have refused to enroll their children in school believing enrolment would make them adherents of the Devil.
Many have refused to have ration cards to avail rice at a cheaper rate on the same grounds even though most of them belonged to poorer sections of the society.

This article is lodged on multiple sites across the Internet, along with others that tend to share or even sharpen the presumption of the irrational margin. If the Assamese situation often presumes the outsider as duplicating the citizen and her rights, if the broader conversation on UID presumes the generalized figure of corruption duplicating legitimate entitlement either from above or below, here the duplicate—if that is indeed the figure—is an accusation offered not from the center but the margin itself. The state’s enterprise invokes numeration in a way that doubles and  threatens to collapse into the work of the Beast. At stake at first pass seems to be a form of life instantiated within the vitality, in Mizoram, of the Book of Revelation. But how might one take the accusation of the double seriously, for the moment? How does property governance, schooling, and identification come together in such a terrifying way?

It is worth noting the violence of state response, abetted by mainstream churches, tracking and punishing non-registrants. The story is murky: it is not clear how the census and UID are organized in relation to one another, in Mizoram. But the punishment threatened seems wildly unlike the conditions for non-registrants in Uttar Pradesh, say. At first pass, again, the situation seems to be a highly paternalist and racialized legacy of “tribal” administration, setting up a high stakes game of moral certitude in which the equal force of the refusal of state demands to be marked makes more sense.

And perhaps, the materiality of UID is more palpable here in the figure of the Mark of the Beast.

I close with a second, longer piece, more extreme in its condemnation and force, followed by some musings on numbers, fellow Jews, and mysterious chicken.

In Mizoram, the Omen

Jaideep Mazumdar

And he causeth all, both small and great, rich and poor, free and bond, to receive a mark in their right hand, or in their foreheads: and that no man might buy or sell, save he that had the mark, or the name of the beast, or the number of his name — Revelation 13:16-17

Kaptawni, a 44-year-old widow who sells second-hand clothes in Aizawl, looks at me with suspicion. “Why does he want to know all these details about me and my family? Is he trying to trick me?” she asks Zodin, the translator. Zodin tries to convince her that I am who I am—a journalist—but Kaptawni is not mollified. I know exactly what she is thinking: am I an agent of the Devil?

Kaptawni is one of the 7,000-odd people in Mizoram who have refused to get themselves enumerated in the census. They are all ultra-orthodox Christians to whom the Unique Identification (UID) card project, a part of the census this time, means a plan by Satan to give humans the ‘Mark of the Beast’ as foretold in the New Testament’s ‘Revelations’ chapter. “The UID card is the first step. Soon, the Government will say that since it can be lost or forged, chips must be implanted in our foreheads or arms. That is what the Bible says will be the Mark of the Beast,” she tells me. My questions make her angry, but it is when we want to shoot her photo that she decides her suspicions are true. “No photographs,” she declares and ends the interview.

The census enumeration started in this deeply religious and overwhelmingly Christian state on 15 May. Soon, a rumour began to float that the UID project heralds the Beast’s rule with everyone receiving a “mark on their right hands or on their foreheads” and without which “no one may buy or sell, save he that had the mark…” The UID, like a US social security number , will at some point be the mark of an Indian, but to Mizoram’s ultra-orthodox Christians it concurs with this line of Revelations: ‘…before the end comes, the number and symbol of the beast or Satan would be distributed to mankind and everybody would be counted by the prince of darkness.’

T Pachhinga isn’t as unreasonable as Kaptawni. The 73-year-old former constable with the Railway Protection Force is willing to talk, and is even ready for a photo. “The UID card will mark us for the Beast. The Bible says that whosoever is thus marked will burn in hell,” he says. Pachhinga belongs to the Presbyterian Church where no one else, including his wife and three adult children, agrees with him. “They don’t understand,” he says. “I know I won’t get the UID card. Maybe I won’t be able to do many things, like bank transactions, draw my pension, get medical treatment or even book a railway ticket. But I’m willing to bear the consequences. I’ve transferred everything in my wife’s name so that my family doesn’t suffer. I’m ready to suffer. I know the Lord will save me.” Pachhinga has a repertoire of Biblical verses to back him. For instance, Revelations chapter 14, verses 9 to 11, which warn against receiving the Beast’s mark.

Kapzuala, 46, an evangelist with the Church of God, another local Protestant denomination, says he’s fine with the census but not the UID project. “I’m opposed to giving my biometric details and being given a number,” he says. He has a voter’s ID card. Doesn’t that also have a number? “The two are different,” he tells me, but refuses to explain why.

We travel to Kolasib, 100 km north of Aizawl, to meet Hmingropuia. He is a leader of the group campaigning against the UID project. He’s not opposing it in its entirety. “My only objection is to the allocation of numbers to those who are enrolled or enumerated. That is the number of the Beast,” he says. Hmingropuia used to be a primary school teacher, but drives an auto-rickshaw now. He has a driving licence which has a number, but that is alright. “The UID card will be a multi-purpose card,” he says. “It will be necessary to buy and sell property, just as is said in the Bible. Also, the UID project is part of a global exercise to enumerate people and households—the UN’s World Population & Housing Census. This is exactly what the Revelation says about the number or symbol of the beast being distributed to mankind and everybody being counted by the prince of darkness.”

Most Christians in Mizoram find this ridiculous. “They’re fanatical Christians with extreme views. They don’t understand the Bible and the Prophecies at all,” says former Minister Rokamloua, a church elder of the Dawrpui Presbyterian Church at Aizawl. C Lalnuntlinga, editor of Christian Outlook, a non-denominational religious monthly published from Aizawl, has carried articles against these rumours. He says, “Good and true Christians have nothing to fear from the Beast or Satan. There’s no danger to them.”

Professor C Nunthara, vice-chancellor of the Shillong campus of William Carey University, has also written against it. “There is absolutely no connection between the UID Project and Biblical prophecies. I have explained that repeatedly in articles,” he says. The Presbyterian Synod issued a statement on the same lines. Church elders and pastors have tried speaking sense and the Government has held seminars to clear misconceptions, but it has not helped.

Strangely, while it is believed the UID is Satan’s project, the Beast by logical extension is not the Indian Government. “It could be the US or UN or some other very powerful entity,” Hmingropuia says. “Both are globally powerful and influential. The Bible says Satan would be a powerful king who rules over the world.”

“How about China, an emerging global superpower?” I ask him.  “Very likely,” he says, warming up to the idea.

Then he sees the camera and his mood turns agitative. We try to cajole him into a photograph, but he won’t even be clicked from the back. Abruptly, he starts talking of his past. “I used to drink a lot and was a street fighter till six years ago. I bashed up many people and was also behind bars.” It’s a loud hint which we take—and leave.

Grateful to the reporter for the courtesy at least of his travels and interviews, I am frustrated at the illiberalism of his honesty and presumptions of backwardness. So three last thoughts.

1) The cosmopolitanism of rumor: what is at stake, for some interviewed, is a sense of risk tied to identification as a globally penetrating form, tied to occult fears precisely in the conjunction of its massive scale and its intimate fixation on, and soon in (the implanted chip) the body. The voices of reason argue: but it is simply a number (thus, paraphrasing Michael Taussig, the devil and identity fetishism). You use numbers and allow yourselves to be used by them all the time. What is the difference here, with UID? But the proponents of UID have long given it magical qualities, the vehicle to end corruption and eliminate poverty through de-duplication. In opposition, then, we have the terrifying double, far more terrifying than the film double of Manu I discussed in an earlier post on the film Duplicate.

2) The number, the mark: I recall a drunken conversation, some years ago, with Martha Selby and Daud Ali, in a Mylapore bar, on the mysterious enumeration of Chicken 65. Many others over the years, variously inflected by intoxicants, have had similar discussions on this South Indian non-veg classic and its name. This led Martha and I to discuss a project on the life of numbers. Perhaps this is my first stab.

3) The sect, the Jew: The relation of sectarianism to duplicating claims, in Mizoram, is not particularly new. I have long followed claims by my Mizo and Manipuri co-religionists to Jewish “rights of return” to settle in Israel, dismissed by many guardians of authentic Jewishness. As in Andhra Pradesh, Jews tend to appear in particular zones of intense post-mission sectarian Christian millenarianism. But if there is a particular local history to the sectarian, in Mizoram, it is again and again articulated to something of far greater scale, whether the deferred promise of Zionism or the embodied threat of the imminently universal mark.

Tripura, the opposite of Assam: on “success” in universal identification

This week’s focus, thanks to Malini Sur, is the Northeast: next week’s, thanks to Tulasi Srinivas, will be the question of failure haunting the publicity of UID since late 2011. Today’s and tomorrow’s posts bridge these. Tripura is positioned very differently in the Indian Northeast, in relation both to Bangladesh and to relations to Bengal more generally, than Assam, subject of the last 2 posts. This difference is something that at the moment I can discuss only anecdotally, and I would appreciate appropriate guidance. But in brief, Tripura has become one of the great success stories of UIDAI, if success is measured in the saturation of identity card registration. If Assam, as we saw, fears a double erasure–absent to national counts, and swamped by Bangladeshi migrants–Tripura is among the most present, counted, places in the Indian Union.

Tripura (in red) in India, Wikimedia Commons location map

Tripura leads in UID enrolment

Sep 26, 2011

UID

Tripura leads in enrolments for the the ambitious “Aadhaar” scheme, a 12-digit number being issued by the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) for all Indian residents, a minister said here Monday.

“In Tripura, 80 percent of the 3.7 million population have so far been enrolled in Aadhaar scheme followed by Andhra Pradesh (25 percent) and Maharashtra (20 percent),” Tripura Rural Development Minister Jitendra Choudhury told reporters.

Quoting a communique of the union rural development ministry, Choudhury said : “The central government, at a function in New Delhi on Thursday, would give awards to Tripura and other well performing states in implementation of the Aadhaar scheme.” Tripura was the first state in the northeast and the eighth in India where the Aadhaar scheme was launched on Dec 2 last year.

According to UIDAI director general and mission director Ram Sevak Sharma, in the next four years, 60 crore Indians would get the Aadhaar number. “Crores [tens of millions] of Indians do not have bank accounts. Once they get the Aadhaar number it would easily facilitate them to open a bank account and get banking services,” Sharma had told reporters here recently. The Aadhaar scheme, formally launched by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Sep 29 last year, is now in progress in many states. UIDAI has empanelled several enrolment agencies across the country.

“The Aadhaar number is an official confirmation of residency not the citizenship of any individual,” an official of the Tripura government clarified.

“The quality and speed of lots of government programmes and issue of official documents to people would be improved through this Aadhaar number,” he said, adding that the problems in getting government facilities and services would also be reduced. According to the official, the Aadhaar number would be stored in a centralised database and linked to the basic demographics and biometric information, including a person’s photographs, 10 fingerprints and iris impression. “The Aadhaar number and all details of an individual will be easily verifiable in an online and cost-effective way,” he added. “By March next year, the enrolment of all residents of Tripura would be completed. They would then get the Aadhaar number directly from UIDAI,” said the official.

Three things:

1) the “well-performing state”: Tripura, anthropomorphized, is to receive an award. Again, the index at stake seems to be one of “forwardness,” tied simultaneously to a developmental figure of command-polity effectiveness and (perhaps) a post-developmental figure of entrepreneurial efficiency. [If in the last post I posited two variably distributed and interrelating governmental regimes, developmental and neoliberal, I should note up front that such is an unsatisfactory conceptualization and will require work as I learn more]. But “performance,” not to make too strong a point where one is unwarranted, may pull us in some other directions. For now: what is developmentalism today? For whom does it perform? Here the figure is of a provincial entity performing its effectiveness for the Centre, a complex claim on the cosmopolitan as well as as the forward and modern.

2) not citizenship but residency: here, quite explicitly, is the claim that UID cannot stand for citizenship, even as UID is iteratively linked to (future) entitlement, within all the voluminous promise of the Kshirsagar [milk-ocean] of entitlement that will flow consequent upon mass de-duplication. Narrowly, the difference from Assam (if these contrastive articles I have posted can be used to entertain broader claims) is striking. The duplicate-migrant is not a palpable figure, at least not here. Tripura unlike Assam has not “disappeared.” On the contrary, it is an award-winning figure of presence and vitality, among the most counted polities in the nation. Understanding and disentangling the distinction here will take me some time, and again, help would be appreciated.

the future of entitlement?

Beyond the specific Northeast story, the claim of UID as a non-citizenship marker, and the question then of exactly what is Residency (a good old word redolent with colonial significance, not the least of which is the lurid literature of the Indian “Mutiny” and the fate of white Lucknow, if perhaps of dubious relevance here) looms. One way to think residency through will be to look, as Ashveer Singh has pointed out in a comment, at the NRI [Non-Resident Indian] as an included figure under Aadhaar: here, at first glance, UID seems to be offered in the opposite way: to citizens (some NRIs can now make such claims, in a way of relevance to my colleague Aihwa Ong’s classic work on flexible citizenship) but not to residents. So how the two are variably assembled seems a critical if obvious question.

3) Tripura as a figure of totality: Tripura promises to be the first “totally” counted state, and as such may stand as the elusive “Proof of Concept” [a bureaucratic term of self-audit that UIDAI has long used to argue for its commitment to effectiveness] that UIDAI has sought. The Central administration’s relation to Tripura is ritually elaborated: thus, the millionth person deemed to be a registrant for UID was from Tripura, a celebrated fact.

UID and Bangladeshi migrants: Worries from an Assam newspaper

If the focus, in the efforts to enroll (and resist enrollment) of hijras, kinnars, and other transgender identified and labelled persons, has been on NGOs tying up with corporate outsourced agencies, in the case of Assam the model appears in this brief English-language news article in the Sentinal to be a more state-centered and planned-development approach. The question of the Bangladeshi migrant saturates Assamese media.

Anti-Bangladeshi migrant student meeting, Assam

The article in question was posted a year ago, January 13, 2011.

UID work to start in Assam

GUWAHATI, Jan 13: The exercise of giving unique identification number (UID) to Indian citizens in Assam is about to start. The UID work is going on in some States of the country.

The task of providing UID for the people of Assam has been assigned to the State home and political department. The department has decided to carry out the work in five districts – Sonitpur, Sivasagar, Jorhat, Dibrugarh and Tinsukia – in the first phase.

Under the home and political department, the Panchayat and Rural Development Department will do the UID work in Sonitpur, Sivasagar and Tinsukia districts, and the Food and Civil Supplies Department in Jorhat and Dibrugarh districts.

The first-phase UID exercise is supposed to be completed by March 31, 2011.

After allotment of the UID, one will get a card called Multi-Purpose National Identity Card.

Though the Centre has directed the State Government to complete the UID work by March 31, there are no clear-cut instructions on how to avoid giving UID to a foreigner in the State where various organizations have for decades been campaigning against influx of Bangladeshis. The State Government is also facing a lot of problems in going ahead with the updating of the National Register of Citizens (NRC).

Sources said, “It will be interesting to see whether the State Government can complete the UID exercise within March 31 because many officers of various  departments have already been engaged to perform Assembly election-related  duties.”

3 comments:

1) The “task” of Aadhaar “has been assigned” to the “state home and political department.” What process of assigning—by whom (UIDAI?), how—produces Aadhaar in Assam, here less of the deleriously promissary end-of-poverty-and-corruption story than a “task,” almost a burden, one that must be achieved through phases in select districts, rationalized surely if begrudgingly (?),  not the entrepreneurial boosterism of the NGO (like Humsafar) bringing forward its target population (in that case, transgenders/hijras) to be counted and (we hope) saved. More broadly, what distribution of the statist-developmental and the neoliberal-entrepreneurial organizes Aadhaar nationally? How are such distributions organized, contested, and lived?

2) If the dominant concern of Aadhaar at the Centre is the duplicate, and the need to de-duplicate in order to assign a “universal” ID, here on the border the dominant concern is the migrant who passes: the Bangladeshi. Passing is a related form of the Duplicate, the 420 [the part of the Indian Penal Code historically concerned with illegal duplication, that is con artistry, to use the American idiom], but at stake is not the singular multiplying citizen but the mass of multiplying non-citizens. The UID becomes a threatening means to regularize the illegal: the state UID apparatus seems to acknowledge in advance it has no sure way before the originary gift of identification to differentiate the true from the doubled citizen.

3) And it seems the cadres of the state have all been assigned to elections, their primary raison d’être. So no one is there to count: a different kind of ‘manpower crunch.’

Fellow traveler(s): left identification, transgender citation

Many websites carried news of the conference. Building on the conception of an intervention and its penumbra, discussed earlier, I want to chart the range of publicity to think a bit about the differential and, paraphrasing my colleague Aihwa Ong, graduated publics constituted through talk about UID.

Let’s do a web search for the conference announcement.

So, here are a few sites that a Google search on the conference brings up, each advertising the conference in advance.

I.  United Black Untouchables Worldwide: “This Blog is all about Black Untouchables,Indigenous, Aboriginal People worldwide, Refugees, Persecuted nationalities, Minorities and global RESISTANCE. The style is autobiographical full of Experiences with Academic Indepth Investigation. It is all against Brahminical Zionist White Postmodern Galaxy MANUSMRITI APARTHEID order, ILLUMINITY worldwide and HEGEMONIES Worldwide to ensure LIBERATION of our People Enslaved and Persecuted, Displaced and Killed.”

This is a widely-ranging and, as the author notes, deeply personal blog focused on Marxist/anti-Brahman critique of caste and labor exploitation but global in scope. One might note only that the struggles of “sexual minorities,” as some of the conference literature frames the issue, are no longer excluded or marginalized from Marxist conceptions of praxis, if this blog is any evidence.

2. http://aboriginalhumanity.blogspot.com/ : This blog, less elaborated as a distinctive site the the previous, seems nonetheless to be published by the same author give ins range of styles and topics.

3. http://himalayanaltitudes.blogspot.com/ : Again, this blog appears to be the result of the same author or a close collaborator: at least a lot of the posts are identical.

4. http://dalitrefugees.blogspot.com/ : A large selection of Gujarati language tests, which I cannot read, and a wide set of cross-postings often exposing scandal.

5. http://kolkatacries.blogspot.com/ : Despite the Kolkata location in the blog title, the identical set of Gujarati posts as the last blog,

So this has been a less than fruitful exercise, perhaps. My initial question was focused on examining the range and gradation of a public coming into focus around an issue, the lines of address, the different (and most often non-Transgender) publics responding to and organizing themselves around the site of Transgender rights and victimization. The hope was to get some slight purchase on how debate on UID is organized and publicized and what kinds of stakes are made apparent.

But mostly, there seem to be a handful of passionately committed publicists (or maybe just 1 person?)  who happen to have been made aware of the conference and flagged it on her/his/their multiple blogs.

Interesting how my own effort here founders on a fear of “duplication” and my efforts to figure out stakes and constituencies in the formation of either a TG or UID public threaten to become a “de-duplication” apparatus.

Time to turn elsewhere.

Intervention and penumbra 2: the Humsafar Trust/Wipro TG/Hijra UID Aadhaar camp

Today I want to look at responses to Vivek Anand’s posting on the Gay Bombay listserve.

Several very active, important people in overlapping LGBT rights and AIDS prevention and treatment worlds wrote supportively of Humsafar Trust [HST]’s initiative. For example:

Excellent initiative, Congratulations.
Best,
Aditya B
 And
This is an absolutely marvelous initiative Vivek and Pallav! The
TG community certainly needs to get Aadhaar numbers. From the
very beginning Nandan Nilekani's team of UIDAI has ensured that
the enrollment process of Aadhaar is INCLUSIVE. The demographic
data capture field for gender has three options MALE, FEMALE and
TRANSGENDER. You may want to get more information about Aadhaar
and how it will change the face of India on this link:
http://uidai.gov.in/ <http://uidai.gov.in/>

Aadhaar is the world's largest biometric data (iris scan, face
pic, fingerprint) capture project. UIDAI targets 1.2 billion
residents of India.

Regards,
Deep

Deep’s posting is interesting, suggesting not only the powerful draw of state recognition (here legible as the technical code allowing a ‘data capture field for gender’ with ‘three options MALE, FEMALE and TRANSGENDER’) but also that this new form of recognition and inclusion is identified directly with the executive and efficient force of Nandan Nilekani himself.

More announcements from HST followed. The HST Advocacy Officer Gautam Yadav posted the following, which I only excerpt as it otherwise overlaps with CEO Vivek Anand’s letter.

Each TG/Hijra group in the city has been asked to mobilize their
populations to avail of this facility. In case identity documents
are incomplete the organisation can do the following. Provide: 

1) Letter from the organisation they are working with/accessing
services (respective NGO) with their photo for identity proof

2) Address proof of office( electric bill/ telephone bill/ leave
license agreement) as their address proof.

We have informed Sakhi Char Chowghi, Astitva, Ekta Foundation,
Darpan Foundation, Triveni Sangam , Kinnar Kastoori and Kinnar
Asmita to mobilise their communities to avail of this facility.

Of note, this posting directly addresses a similar concern to the one I raised yesterday: persons who cannot produce POI [Proof of Identity] documentation can instead be identified as a recipient of services from the ‘respective NGO’; and, if I understand the post correctly, the NGO’s POA [Proof of Address] can serve as proxy for the Resident’s.

Thus, very interestingly, ‘residency’ as a requirement for universal recognition by UIDAI has a proxy condition: NGO affiliation as a recipient of services.The NGO stands in for the formal residency that the ‘informalized’ urban slumdweller cannot produce. To use the contested terms of Partha Chatterjee, the NGO brokers the relation of political society (those lacking formal relations of legitimacy to labor and to land) to civil society (those formally recognizable as citizens).

Others were less optimistic: “cuteboy” writes

Gautamji... what good will this UID do ???

Deep responds again, this time with the by now familiar promise of UID. It is a lengthy posting, the length itself worth noting. The length and density, if heartfelt, seem to bludgeon cuteboy’s question…. What may also be worth noting is that the subject of this positive claim for UID is not a specifically gendered or transgendered subaltern but (I would argue) once again the generalized ‘common man’ I have encountered over the past week’s readings.

I am not suggesting that such a generalization is necessarily a problem: one could argue in contrast that Deep resists the pathologization or spectacularization of transgender life. But whereas in theory such a refusal to specify the benefits of UID for transgender, kinnar, or hijra persons and communities may resist a certain kind of interpellation, in practice I find myself wondering if critical questions are being neglected.

Deep’s first theme is access to state and private services through universal and trustworthy identification. Implicit, to the extent this is a response to the marginalization of transgender persons, is a claim that in being rendered both universal and trustworthy kinnars, hijras, and others will gain access to services.

Why Aadhaar? Aadhaar-based identification will have two unique
features: Universality, which is ensured because Aadhaar will
over time be recognised and accepted across the country and across
all service providers. Every resident's entitlement to the number.
The number will consequently form the basic, universal identity
infrastructure over which Registrars and Agencies across the 
country can build their identity-based applications. Unique 
Identification of India (UIDAI) will build partnerships with 
various Registrars across the country to enrol residents for the 
number. Such Registrars may include state governments, state 
Public Sector Units (PSUs), banks, telecom companies, etc. These 
Registrars may in turn partner with enrolling agencies to enrol 
residents into Aadhaar. Aadhaar will ensure increased trust 
between public and private agencies and residents. Once residents 
enrol for Aadhaar, service providers will no longer face the 
problem of performing repeated Know Your Customer (KYC) checks 
before providing services. They would no longer have 
to deny services to residents without identification documents. 
Residents would also  be spared the trouble of repeatedly proving
identity through documents each time they wish to access services 
such as obtaining a bank account, passport, or driving license 
etc. By providing a clear proof of identity, Aadhaar will empower 
poor and underprivileged residents in accessing services such as 
the formal banking system and give them the opportunity to easily 
avail various other services provided by the Government and the 
private sector. The centralised technology infrastructure of the 
UIDAI will enable 'anytime, anywhere, anyhow' authentication. 
Aadhaar will thus give migrants mobility of identity. Aadhaar 
authentication can be done both offline and online, online 
authentication through a cell phone or land line connection will 
allow residents to verify their identity remotely. Remotely, 
online Aadhaar-linked identity verification will give poor 
and rural residents the same flexibility that urban non-poor 
residents presently have in verifying their identity and 
accessing services such as banking and retail. Aadhaar will also 
demand proper verification prior to enrolment, while ensuring 
inclusion. Existing identity databases in India are fraught with
problems of fraud and duplicate or ghost beneficiaries. To prevent
these problems from seeping into the Aadhaar database, the UIDAI 
plans to enrol residents into its database with proper 
verification of their demographic and biometric information. This 
will ensure that the data collected is clean from the beginning of the 
program. However, much of the poor and under-privileged 
population lack identity documents and Aadhaar may be the first 
form of identification they will have access to. The UIDAI will 
ensure that its Know Your Resident (KYR) standards do not become a 
barrier for enrolling the poor and has accordingly developed an 
Introducer system for residents who lack documentation. Through 
this system, authorised individuals ('Introducers') who already 
have an Aadhaar, can introduce residents who don't have any 
identification documents, enabling them to receive their Aadhaar.
Deep goes on to add a lengthy discussion of micropayments, an extensive and well-formulated rationale for how Aadhaar will enable marginal economic actors (“the poor”) to be incorporated into the economy. I will not take up the economics of UID yet.
Before returning to the listserve and to what it includes and excludes, I would just note what else Deep’s posting offers: (1) terminology, positions, rationales: Introducers, KYR standards, KYC checks, the familiar problem of duplication (here described as a “seepage” into the Aadhaar database); (2) a flexible vision of “anytime, anywhere, anyhow authentication” that seems at the outset like an extraordinary mash-up of an ATM machine and a society of total control.

Deep’s was the last posting archived of this thread. Whereas both the formal media and the blogosphere are saturated with critiques of UIDAI, on Gay Bombay at this point one found primarily optimism and expertise. At the most basic, one could argue that Aadhaar was one of a series of recent and negotiated decisions between transgender and kinnar communities (and transgender in English and kinnar (किन्नर) in Hindi are increasingly replacing hijra in much state documentation and debate on the census, reservations in government and education, and UID) and the state, and that its power lies in the importance of recognition of transgender and kinnar persons and communities here as a third gender. But Deep’s posting focuses on the generalized opposition of the poor and the “non-poor,” under the new conditions of non-poor NGOs as Introducers of the poor.

De-duplication and “self-cleaning” 101

दोहरापन रोकने की प्रक्रिया सुनिश्चित करना

Today’s brief entry is the first to examine the current Government of India (hereafter GOI) UIDAI website. As per the last entry, I am hoping to begin to address the process of de-duplication: techniques, rationales and presumptions, politics, experience, critique.

UIDAI has a public website: currently, I seem only to be able to access Hindi and English versions. The Hindi is found at http://uidai.gov.in/hindi/ and the English at http://uidai.gov.in/ (the public of Universal ID does not seem yet to extend to other language spheres): at least in the few sections of both blogs, they had sentence for sentence matched content which appeared to be a translation from the English to Hindi.  दोहरापन may not have the same semantic and affective resonance as the Hindi-English “duplicate”/डुप्लिकेट.

The main web page in either language directs one to a link marked Aadhaar Technology. [Aadhaar (आधार), the other name for the UID, can translate as basis, ground, fundamental].

Here is the relevant section on de-duplication:

Process to ensure no duplicates: Registrars will send the applicant’s data to the CIDR for de-duplication. The CIDR will perform a search on key demographic fields and on the biometrics for each new enrolment, to minimise/eliminate duplicates in the database.

The incentives in the UIDAI system are aligned towards a self-cleaning mechanism. The existing patchwork of multiple databases in India provides scope to individuals to furnish different personal information to different agencies. Since de-duplication in the UIDAI system ensures that residents have only one chance to be in the database, individuals are made to provide accurate data. This incentive will become especially powerful as benefits and entitlements are linked to Aadhaar.

Online authentication: The Authority will offer a strong form of online authentication, where agencies can compare demographic and biometric information of the resident with the record stored in the central database. The Authority will support Registrars and Agencies in adopting the Aadhaar authentication process, and will help defining the infrastructure and processes they need.

Terms: CIDR

The CIDR is essentially a service provider to the UIDAI and will provide services which include the processing of enrolment and authentication requests as prescribed, and following pre-defined service standards. The CIDR will also develop the operating procedure for interface between the CIDR and Registrars. The CIDR will also establish and maintain a grievance redressal system to address grievances about the failure of service of any of the service providers.

So, one of the first things we need to understand is the “system of positions,” to misuse the phrase of anthropologist Jeanne Favret-Saada. We earlier encountered the dyad of the ‘registrar’ and the ‘resident’: here we have some kind of chain linking UIDAI—CIDR—Registrar and thus to the Resident. Okay, more to learn about.

The point here is that CIDR is in immediate charge of the problem of duplication, and CIDR is  apparently also both omsbudsperson and auditor to collect and address complaints against Registrars and others. If I understand the technical language correctly [I doubt that I do, yet]: the Registrar sends the ID data, I presume both biographical and biometric, on to the CIDR, which in turn ‘authenticates’ both data and enrollment process and somehow ‘de-duplicates’ differing and somehow incommensurable versions of identity the Resident (client/common man/citizen) has managed (erroneously or on purpose) to relate to varied “agencies” of the state, the archipelago of NGOs, and the corporate formal sector. The registrant or Resident enters the process under a cloud, as it were, of being or having a duplicate. His or her formal entry into the new system must ensure that no such duplicates in fact exist. But—and here again is a flicker of the promise of UIDAI to end corruption—this selfsame CIDR not only polices duplicate persons/files but also the varied agencies that can act as Registrants.

So one point only, today:

1) The iron cage: even if the UIDAI is both in good faith and accurate in its prediction that UID will offer greater accountibility and some measure of social or distributive justice, its promise of de-duplication ends the availability of redundant identity as a feature of living with and under the state.

In earlier work, I borrowed Roma Chatterji’s concept of the file self [developed to describe how staff in a Dutch old age home constitute the personhood of demented residents through the selective and strategic citation of their medical case files] to argue that families and other loved ones of hospital patients I was working with in Varanasi in north India strategically and selectively presented their relation’s case files to medical personnel to achieve varied outcomes, or attempt to do so. The “file” in this sense consisted of an assemblage of traces of earlier clinical events and encounters. Each offered a certain identity and generated a certain range of outcomes. The effective challenge in presenting a relation to a busy and perhaps arrogant physician in a government hospital was to augment and winnow these trace identities. More broadly, I will frame the clinical encounter as an effort (with its attendant failures, of course) to constitute a relation to an often more powerful and variously disinterested or distrustful officer/clinician/expert/agent through the management of redundancy.

What happens when the possibilities of the redundant erode, here under the pressures of presumptive rationalization?

One way out, if a way out is to be sought, is to argue for the rationality of redundancy. Evolutionary biologists have been one source of powerful thinking about redundancy in biological systems, and systems engineering more generally has developed complex models of what I will call critical redundancy.

But redundancy is fought, here, for the UIDAI, because the duplicate is always assumed to be the counterfeit.

Note too the language here in the web discussion of de-duplication as ‘self-cleaning.’ More on this I hope to come.