“Aadhaar Fraud”: a case study in Hyderabad

After a hiatus, the Aadhaar project is back. I’ll try to keep the posts short, 15 minute efforts, and in keeping with the idea behind the blog: brief engagements with the question of the duplicate and the forms of political engagement produced as the citizen is replaced by the registrant, across a series of sites. Please see my early posts to see the project as it unfolds.

Hyderabad, the standard view

Aadhaar and UID are premised on a claim termed de-duplication: the elimination of fraud, inefficiency, and corruption in the relation of the state both to individuals and the “nexus” of the powerful. Aadhaar’s claim rests on it not just being yet another source for “duplicate” identity: so questions of Aadhaar fraud strike more powerfully at the rationale of the entire program than similar allegations of fraud elsewhere.What may be key to observe is not the incidence of such fraud, unsurprising given the financial stakes being tied to UID, but its governance: its publicity, forensics, and the forms of institutional reorganization that such cases do or do not set in motion.

Here is one such case, from the Times of India news network, June 17, 2012.The author is Mahesh Buddi.

HYDERABAD: Seven persons, including four Infrastructure Leasing and Financial Services Ltd (IL&FS) employees and a ration shop dealer, have been booked by the police in the Aadhaar card fraud.

Police have named Shaik Afsar, a former data entry operator of IL&FS from Talabkatta, as the prime accused. He was assisted in committing the fraud by Shabbir, technical co-ordinator, and Imran, supervisor of the Aadhaar card registration project by IL&FS in Old City.

Police zeroed in on Afsar after UIDAI confirmed that all the authorization fingerprints used for the enrollment of the 60 persons in biometric exception category were his. Afsar, who used to work as a data entry operator with IL&FS, had quit the job in August 2011.

Subsequently, he was approached by Gopal, a ration shop dealer (shop number 256) of Talabkatta, who sought new Aadhaar cards in the names given by him. Afsar, who had already quit his job, took the help of an Aadhaar card broker Rafiq and lured Shabbir and Imran to lend him an authorised laptop (No: 20193 – Baba Nagar enrollment office) used by IL&FS to do Aadhaar registrations for a few days.

Using the laptop, Afsar had done 60 fake entries under the physically disabled category between October 14 and 29, 2011. Police found that Gopal had asked for only 13 Aadhaar cards on specific names so that he could continue to utilise the set of fake ration cards available with him even after government makes Aadhaar mandatory for drawing essential items at ration shops. Gopal had paid Afsar Rs 4,000 for the job.

Police are yet to ascertain on whose request and for what purpose Afsar had done the rest of the fake registrations. After the probe, the investigating officers have named two top IL&FS officials, Yashwant and Vinay, as accused for knowingly ignoring the fraud.

Police have seized the laptop and took some of the accused into custody. However, prime accused Afsar has gone to Oman in March 2012 for employment and police are planning to issue a red corner notice against him. “So far, UIDAI has given details of enrollment related to 60 cards and we have finished the probe in that regard. As 30,000 more such registrations are there, the list of accused might increase and we will do further probe once UIDAI gives us details,” a Charminar police officer said.

So, three quick points:

1) Governance: The “police” and “UIDAI” here are seen to work in tandem as the forensic apparatus. Who, and how, exactly? Much to learn. The police are represented at the local level (the Charminar, old city station): where and how UIDAI operates and at what level of scale is unclear. The other major player here is the subcontracted private corporation that was functioning as a Registrar for persons to receive the card in Hyderabad, IL&FS. Several officials of the latter are accused of knowing of the violation and not acting.What is striking in the reportage are the details: we are told which laptop was used and which ration shop was involved, in case case being offered the exact number of the registered (computer, shop) item. This intrigues me.

2) Networks: This illegal operation would extend pre-existing forms of duplication in the ration card business to the new Aadhaar card: a local shopkeeper appears to be trying to extend his ability to game the system by building on local networks linking the skills of data entry and data access; the machines that serve as portals into the system; and the varied outsourcers (here IL&FS) that drive the actual creation of data. These networks are specific to Hyderabad, and at least two senses of scale and of relation are offered: the dense, scaled-down, local, and here largely Muslim world of the old city; and the transnational movement of labor and forensic claims that link Hyderabad to Oman and the Gulf states more generally.

3) Number: It is not clear what the scale of the violation is. We are given a possible number of 60. But an upper limit of 30000 suggests that the trouble with Aadhaar may be far more widespread. We are left with little ability to work between the numbers.

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.

“UID and Transgenders” Conference: Rights Activists Nix Aadhaar

Does state and market recognition through biometrics benefit “sexual minorities”? This is the question posed–the last 2 days’ postings have examined Mumbai-based NGOs’ answering yes. Today’s post (delayed due to start of school year and my just getting back) is a news article from the online India-focused news service and site DNA, reporting on human rights activists who argue the contrary position. The article reports, if somewhat crudely, on a conference held in Bengaluru [Bangalore].

Sexual minorities: UID makes them unique target

Published: Friday, Nov 11, 2011, 11:54 IST
By DNA Correspondent | Place: Bangalore | Agency: DNA

What does gender have to do with unique identification numbers? That’s the question that sexual minorities are asking and they are pondering whether they should opt for Aadhaar.

“Any marginalised community can be targeted. Each denomination can be segregated,” said lawyer BT Venkatesh speaking at a consultation on ‘UID and Transgenders: Potential and Concerns’, on Thursday.

The community that is already discriminated against will become more vulnerable once they tick the ‘TG’ box in the section for gender and become known as transgenders, he said. Also, if the database is hacked, a person’s life can be derailed.

Human Rights activist Uma Chandru said: “Sex workers are constantly harassed. Members of sexual minorities are targeted.” The UID would only help segregate them for such treatment. For instance, the hijra community can be summoned to the police station and harassed if any child goes missing because there is a belief that they steal children, she said.

Members of sexual minorities, who are in desperate need for identity proof as it is a necessity for something as simple as buying a SIM card, are unsure if they should welcome the Aadhaar. Recounting the examination that she had to put herself through to secure a passport, Veena said: “It took me one year and two months to get my passport. At the passport office, the official questioned me for more than an hour. At the hospital, I was stripped, my organs scanned and photographed. At the police station, too, I had to answer many uncomfortable questions.” Authorities even asked her why she needed a passport and if she would misuse it.

Manjesh said that sexual minorities have to work hard to prove their identity and show that the certificates were genuine. “Securing my father’s property was difficult. People beat me up and accuse me of stealing someone else’s documents,” he said. “I have been unable to get the benefits that are given to disabled people even though I am eligible for it because of the gender and identity issue,” another member said.

However, there is no legal basis for collecting biometric information, Aadhaar is “something sinister” that has to be resisted, Venkatesh said.

3 quick thoughts:

1) the mobile narrative of the painful strip search: This article is not the first to document the presumption of the police and other agencies nationally in subjecting transgender persons to disrespectful and humiliating body searches in service of somehow authenticating and ‘de-duplicating’ their identity in authorizing a passport or other documents. The question of the authenticity of the hijra body and the threat of the “false hijra” is a layered question that in the past has saturated both hijra and non-hijra practices of making and policing gender, of ethics, and of sustaining and undoing community boundaries. Here it converges troublingly with the legal-administrative figure of the duplicate.

Elsewhere this same report of the painful and violating search has been used precisely to argue the opposite, as a clear rationale for UID: here it is being used for the opposed purpose. The source of the event in question is (understandably) never offered, and so the narrative becomes a free-floating object inserted in very different sorts of rights and entitlement based claims.

2) Speaking for TGs?: Here, as in the thread cited over the last few days (and as in this blog), “transgenders” are spoken about but not clearly present in the conversation. The named voice of authority is that of ‘human rights’ activism, and the integrity of transgender lives and citizenships here becomes a project to guarantee the human as such. Paraphrasing the classic framing of Lata Mani in her work on others speaking for the sati, one might ask the extent to which the figure of the ‘transgender/hijra’ here is neither subject nor object of debate but its ground. The ways the identical account of official brutalization can be used either to make claims for or against UID somehow seems to dislocate the materiality of the event and make it available as a floating signifier.

But this may not be at all fair to the reporter. The Bangalore activist/NGO milieu has complex and hard-won relations between TG- and non-TG- queers. The conference itself may be generated within this context.

3) Troubling the unique status of Aadhaar: Veena’s account of the intense and humiliating medical forensic examination of her motives and organs in her effort to secure a passport, and those of others’ cited, troubles the presumption that Aadhaar will save people from this kind of violence and suggests rather it will merely multiply it. In my last post, I looked at claims that the queer/sexual health NGO would be expected to serve as the guarantor of identity. But the assembled experience at the conference may suggest otherwise.

Hijras and UIDAI registration: rights, recognition, transgender, violence

One critical site to think about UIDAI is in its distributed promise and threat for people identified as hijra, kinnar, aravani, khusra, khwaja, eunuch, and so forth (these different names and the distinctions they imply matter immensely—”hijra” is frequently both less available and less respectful as a term of reference or address, and I am of necessity less comfortable in the naming of this blog post). By distributed promise or hope and distributed violence or threat I mean both that the commitment to UID as a better guarantor of fundamental recognition, rights, identity, justice, and entitlements, and the concern about UID as a powerful form of policing, surveillance, and biological foreclosure of identity and the right to have rights, are unevenly claimed by different actors and groups within transgender communities and among the large NGO apparatus central to their contemporary governance.

So this next week in a series of short posts I would like to begin to look at emerging questions of UID and its relation to the politics of transgender survival, sovereignty, and policing. And maybe I will be able to rethink some of the questions of the duplicate that I began to frame this past week.

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

Tuesday January 10

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

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

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

The telltale signs of the villager

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

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

The man of any form

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

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

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

What the body reveals

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

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

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

Identification papers

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

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

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

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

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

The loss and gain of identity

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

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

Both sides now

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

3 thoughts

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

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

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