“1.2 billion credit histories will be available”: Aadhaar and the reformation of the Masses

This is the final post for now introducing the question of financial inclusion. Barring some exciting new topic brought by next week’s events, I would like to turn back to the northeastern states of India and to the question of the migrant in coming days, and then to a close reading of Imagining India, the book by UID head Nandan Nilekani..

Frequent news image: the new account-holder

So, briefly: an earlier article from the Hindu subsidiary Business Line, filed from Chennai, on 5 November 2011, by A. J. Vinayak and M. V. S. Santosh Kumar:

‘Aadhaar’ the unique identification number, will be aadhaar (support) to banks in not just one but three ways. Not only would it reduce the customer acquisition cost (estimated at Rs 150 an account), it would also reduce customer distribution costs and provide banks credible information for credit risk analysis in the years to come.

Participating in a panel discussion on ‘Profitable models for financial inclusion, agriculture and rural development’, Mr Rajesh Bansal, Assistant Director-General of Unique Identification Authority of India, said that by 2017, nearly 1.2 billion people in the country would be enrolled under Aadhaar.

As Aadhaar gives enrollers a choice to open bank accounts, Indian banks will have access to 1.2 billion customers in the country by the end of 2017, Mr Bansal noted. With this, 1.2 billion credit histories will be available which will in turn help banks to do better credit risk analysis, he said.

Stating that 11 crore people have already enrolled under Aadhaar, he said 3 crore people are being enrolled under the project every month. Around Rs 3-lakh crore of subsidy transfer opportunity is waiting to be unlocked post-Aadhaar, which dwarfs the Rs 22,000 crore currently being spent under National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA).

Since 1.2 billion people are expected to get the benefit of Aadhaar in the country, this will be a good KYC (know your customer) for bankers.

Post this panel discussion, Dr Subir Gokarn, Deputy Governor, in his speech, also noted the immense opportunity the ‘financially excluded’ offer.

According to a National Council for Applied Economic Research survey, around 42 per cent of the rural household’s have financial assets in the form of cash. The same proportion in urban areas is 23.4 per cent. This data, despite being dated (survey was done in 2005), would be of similar proportion even today, he opined.

While he used the reference of ‘know your customer’ transition to ‘grow with your customer’ strategy going forward for banks. It is very relevant in case of financial inclusion given largely untapped financial savings and other financial products.

So just a single point. Various state and bank officials promote UID/Aadhaar as an immense resource, a promise, a potential, a source of untapped wealth in the very form of the masses, the long-suffering material of Planned Development, its scary enumeration once a sign of biological catastrophe and the need for swift surgical reform. But here the mass in its enumeration is the source of previously disregarded wealth newly available through the technology of biometrically guaranteed identification. Wealth where before there was waste, a but like the Appalachian landscapes newly given over to the promise of fracking in North America.

Again, it is not simply that Aadhaar creates potential through the registration and formal sector control of previously untapped monetary reserves: but that Aadhaar creates a powerful new information reserve, 1.2 billion credit histories, a double expansion. The mass is reformed both as a source of minimal wealth that in its very massiveness will generate untold potential, and as a source of the radical expansion of information enabling new massifications of risk (sorry!), new control points enabling the presumptively effective management of the risk as poverty becomes the primary national resource for wealth, its marginality a resource for reframing the object of risk (“Know Your Customer”) itself.

Is this a problem? I’m not sure. Win-win situation? I’m not sure.

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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.

More on the “UID and Transgenders” Conference 1

The last post looked briefly at a news item reporting on the Bengaluru [Bangalore] conference “UID and Transgenders: Potential and Concerns.” I want to follow this up over the next few days by looking briefly at some of the sites where the conference was publicized. I first quote the conference invitation [English-language version] in full. It is a carefully thought through document:

Dear friends, Aneka and Karnataka Sexual Minorities Forum invite you for a Consultation, UID and Transgenders: Potential and Concerns.  On Thursday, 10th November 2011, at Vidya Deep College, 128/1, Ulsoor Road, Bangalore 42 (near Shilton Suites) between 4 – 6:30 PM.  The ambitious Unique Identification number (UID) exercise that is now underway in the country has provoked strong responses from various sides. While some hail it as an enabler; a tool that can help the state deliver welfare measures and rights; others are sharply critical of the concept and process. Many of these concerns and issues have been debated on various fora, one issue that has not received the kind of attention it deserves is that of transgenders and the UID. The UID allows people to register themselves as transgenders (along with Male and Female).  In this respect the UID is indeed unique. (The other official document that has space for transgenders is the Election Identity Card that has a column called  “others” under sex.) Some organisations have taken this provision in the UID as a positive step and have started to encourage transgenders (and other sexual minorities) to enrol themselves. One of the reasons why transgenders find it difficult to access the UID is the erasure of their identity. Many of them have few “official” documents and the ones that they do have indicate the sex that they are born into and not the gender that they now express. The fact that they have no proof of their identity is a huge impediment to their sense of entitlement as well as for them to actually access the benefits that are rightfully theirs. However given the critical questions raised on privacy, civil liberties (besides technological feasibility and costs) an uncritical acceptance of the UID as a “pure good” is also problematic. Aneka and Karnataka Sexual Minorities Forum invite you to a meeting to discuss and understand the implications of the UID for transgenders.

3 quick notes before proceeding:

1.The official inscription of the transgender: both UIDAI and the election card, according to the invitation, now allow registration under a third class, neither female nor male. At some point we should address the politics of kinnar/TG recognition “as third” in U.P. and Bihar, in north India, in relation to elections and reservation (affirmative action) policy. Part of the question for me is the differential commitment to “thirdness” as a site of respect and recognition.

2. Both sides now: The invitation offers terse but careful renderings of both the promise and the potential danger of UID on the sex/gender margin. It is one of the first documents I have seen over the past two weeks of this website’s existence that does not throw itself entirely into a pro-UID or anti-UID position. What are the conditions of this “balanced” position, in the making of this conference but also more generally? Are there other forms of address to UID that eschew the UID good/UID bad binary for other ways of problematizing what is at stake?

3. Whither welfare?: As noted in the invitation, the case for UID’s promise to the common man [sic], such as it is, presumes the rationalized and deterritorialized organization of rights and entitlements to persons as a “service model.” We have yet to explore the question of deterritorialization and mobility of a program organized around the “Resident” as the subject of service provision; we have yet to explore the presumptions of service itself as a potentially radical refiguring of citizenship and the political sphere. But more generally, how do we understand and conceptualize the politics of welfare under liberalism, in India in this case, and the impact in this context of UID? The historian Sarah Hodges in a kind response to this blog asked how UID was related to or supplanting the ration card, and indeed the question of the ration card might be a critical way in to frame this set of questions.

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.