The Big One

At the Annual South Asia Meetings this past week in Madison, Wisconsin, I organized a set of panels, with Gayatri Reddy and Martha Selby, on Number: participating were (in addition to we three) Sonal Acharya, Michele Friedner, Mather George, Ajay Skaria, and Harris Solomon.

The primary paper I gave was on UIDAI/Aadhaar. It was preceded by a somewhat more impressionistic set of comments on number designed to open the imagination as it were.

Both merit critique and so I am posting them here, though the first is tangentially relevant to UID, and both suffer from the limits of 15 minute presentations.

The conceit of the panel was that every paper be given a number as a title. My UID paper was entitled “1.”

Here it is, after the requisite picture of Madison.

South Asia, materialized annually on a Midwestern isthmus

1

Lawrence Cohen

A new and massive expansion of identity has been underway in India since the 1999 conflict with Pakistan known in the country as the Kargil War. Certitudes abound in the wake of this expansion: Geeta Patel yesterday spoke of a cottage industry of expertise. And yet as recently as this summer not only journalists and scholars but cabinet members appeared uncertain as to what the identity project was, whether it was legal, and who controlled it.  I want today to offer what partial certitudes I can and to share some questions I face.  Let me begin by summarizing my main assertion baldly. India is now a database. [Whether it makes sense to say that it has been a “database” in the past I would leave open for now.] For this nation-cum-database governance is being redefined as an “technocratic” operation that has been termed de-duplication.  If we are to think about politics and economics in the age of the nation as database, we might attempt to understand both what may be entailed by the nation’s de-duplication, its reduction to a population of singularities, of ones, and, in contrast, what form, what thing, or what practice duplication of the one entails.

For duplication is a problem. The architect of the dominant version of the current expansion of identity, Nandan Nilekani the former CEO of the outsourcing giant Infosys, argues compellingly that India is plagued by leakage and inefficiency that dooms it to stagnation, illiteracy, and impoverishment and in effect keeps it, unlike China, out of history. This is the old Hegelian sickness from which China has apparently broken free. But India is awash in duplicates, precisely the symptomatology Hegel offered in the Aesthetics in his claim that for the Hindus spirit or divinity, being radically separated from nature, is indeterminate and can only take determinate form through a sensuous rejoining with nature: but a rejoining that must mark the primary ontological division between nature and spirit by exaggerating nature.

Thus Hegel’s example, of the deity image with multiple duplicate limbs or heads. If the deity is for Hegel an obvious monstrosity, for art historian Stella Kramrisch the accusation of an aesthetics of pathic duplication takes subtler form in her analysis of the logic of repetition that dooms the Idea, say of the hierophonic gopuram or shikara, to endless elaboration without the creative emergence of new forms. If some of the earlier Romantics and their varied, still extant successors could take India through Vedanta as in fact the Big One, the Truer One than the Abrahamic Trio of faiths always hesitant to embrace a monism sufficiently radical for Romantic apperception, Hegel and his varied followers, most notably Albert Schweitzer, would overturn the positivity of the Big Indian One and reveal it as a stunted singularity forever doomed in the punishing Hegelian terms to the duplication of the Idea and the profound negativity of Spirit in this frozen moment of the great dialectic.

De-duplication as an emergent project of technocratic governance assumes that India’s modern failures have been political and social. The accent is on the political: India’s social vastness, for the technocrats, could be leveraged as a tremendous resource but for the failures of its political system and the particular logic of the social it maintains. I will return to these key words, political and social, for they are floating signifiers whose content is being assembled under projects like de-duplication.

In his well-written and densely para-ethnographic manifesto Imagining India (the familiar title, of so many books, itself a duplicate and thus for Hegelians perversely unable to evade the punishing charge of the repetitive stutter of the Indian Idea), Nilekani argues that technocratic solutions to India’s problem with history are insufficient and that what we might call the political-social must be itself addressed. And yet the text carries a sense of the intractability of the Indian political-social, and thus of the need for a radical cure.

Drawing on my reading of Thomas Hansen’s well-known claim for a modern Indian anti-politics, one rooted in a rejection of the everyday play of interest as an always already corrupt nexus that can never be reformed and must be rejected for a sublime order of governance , I have in my earlier writings on family planning argued that a former Nehruvian technocratic regime came to rely on techniques and imaginaries of an as-if modernity, a surgical form of governance that worried that the masses, constituted not only as educable primitives but as a passionate mob ever outside of reason, could never be disciplined into the requisite abstemious Protestantism of the development project and must be operated open to be made to act as if they were modern and could withhold the passions. I termed this condition of as-if modernity that came to take sterilization as the technocratic condition to circumvent the intractability of the mass one of “operability.”

The logic of UIDAI, of the technocracy yet to come, I want to argue here, is not operability but de-duplication.  Nilekani writes Imagining India as a second-order observer of the political social, in anti-political recognition of the intractability of the nexus, but his diagnosis of intractability leads him back to a technical solution rooted in an assemblage of techniques and forms: big data, biometrics, financial inclusion, and the conception of the state as a “platform” for minimal entitlement and labor rationalization through deterritorialized redistribution. I will explain what I mean by all this in a moment. But first let me schematize what to me seems the logic of intractability, or failure, that justifies UID.

The failure of the political might be called duplication-from-above.  The failure of the social might be called duplication-from-below.   That is, the wealth of the nation “leaks” away through corruption by a process of duplication by the ruling class and by the masses.

A politician or political nexus diverts wealth by mobilizing a phantom population of duplicates who on paper appear to be legitimate beneficiaries of, say, a cattle fodder scheme.  A mass diverts wealth through countless tiny acts of duplicate identification, from mobilizing multiple ration cards to fraudulent pension claims and so forth.  De-duplication would limit such bi-directional leakage by demanding a logic of identity through biometric ID cards and more critically big data collation and auditing creating a population that cannot be duplicated, or so the technical promise stands.

Through duplication-from-above and from-below, the wealth of the nation leaks from both its entrepreneurial acquisition by the new asocial business class (Nilekani presents himself as a self-made individual against the old business class of, say, the Ambanis and such for whom capital is deeply intertwined with irrational/corrupt social, that is familial, forms) and its redistribution to the new asocial and deserving poor (the new figure of the deserving poor is asocial to the extent the poor’s need is not “sops and subsidies” doled out to “local powers” but rather a generalizable distribution with a logic leading inexorably toward biological citizenship (to borrow Adriana Petryna’s apt term) through cash transfers).

That is, the deserving poor and the deserving entrepreneur are asocial to the extent their sociality can not be characterized by cronyism or nexus, the dominant signification here of the political social.  What these twinned calls for what I am terming an asocial mass and an asocial form of capitalist reason produce is of course a new and presumptively rationalized and responsibilized form of the social, perhaps akin to what in different contexts Steven Collier and Jim Ferguson have conceptualized as a neoliberal social.

As many of you will know, de-duplication is to be achieved through a form of responsible belonging termed Universal Identification or UID, centered on an identity card branded as Aadhaar, literally “basis” but I which would translate in this case as “common platform.” The card’s promise is to create a de-duplicated and de-duplicable identity through several means of which I will discuss three. Each of these means moves past Hegel toward the One by a different numeric pathway. Since our discussions today are on number, let me reduce the complex technology of Aadhaar to a series of numerical operations addressing the means of getting to One.

To one through the random number

The first pathway is through the random number.  “Biometric” data, principally two iris scans and ten fingerprint scans translated through “data capture” and a series of algorithms into a unique data set, are linked both to a physical ID card with a face photo and a randomly generated twelve digit number.  Randomness is key for the architects of UIDAI: unlike the Social Security system in the U.S., in which the ID number is far from random and reveals data on birthplace, residence, and much else, leading to the possibility of gaming the system and producing duplicate (or in the US lexicon, stolen) identity.

In other words, a de-duplicated individual identity, call it the Little One, is to be generated by linking two numeric assemblages: a biometric data encoding and a random number, the latter in its utter randomness shorn as it were of the Idea and thus of the Hegelian sickness of duplication. And a nation of Little Ones, achieved through their agressive de-duplication, constitutes the ever deferred Big One.

To one through the zero

The second pathway is through the zero. No one is to have access to the database. What I mean by database is the series of servers and data architectures that link a random number to a given biometric profile.  The engineers who have designed Universal ID, a number of whom I have interviewed in this very early stage of my own research, put great stock in this zero.  It is both their response to the dominant criticism of UID, its potential invasion of privacy by the security state, and to their primary concern, that the Aadhaar card far from de-duplicating India will only be the most cunningly designed engine yet for the creation of duplicates. The system creates a random Little One identity that cannot be accessed by anyone.  Not its architects, not its outsourced ID card registrars, not bureaucrats, not politicians, not you, not I.  Only the data architecture itself, if I understand it correctly (and my research is now, and at this point unlike the promised card quite fallible), can “know” the referent of the random number, can trace it to the individual, the Little One who its creates and guarantees. But no human knowers can penetrate this knowledge, or pervert it to political-social ends.

UID thus produces an extraordinary form of power that in its promise of incorruptibility is subject to and transparent to no one, a power that in its apparent ontological grounding in the zero I will for now at least term bodhisattva power. It is the opposite conception of de-duplication from that advocated by proponents of the Right to Information and their conception of a social audit, in which Security can only be grounded in the Multitude, in a form of number not zero, not one, not random.

To one through the two

Each of these pathways presumes a limit in the current political social as a control or command polity, a kind of failed Big One. The state and the political class are responsible only to themselves: politicians will not have the incentive to implement a project of this scale and bureaucrats will not have the incentive to generate the universal biometric registration of citizens.  The third pathway is through the two. By two here I refer to the emergent structure of government that addresses the presumptive failure of ordinary bureaucracy and ordinary politics by creating an exceptional outside to the state, but one that becomes in effect a parallel or second order of government, the one that promises to succeed where the ordinary government is always assumed to fail. This doubled assumption, of success and of failure, is what I refer to as the logic of the two.

The establishment of UID as an exceptional branch of government, along the lines of the successful Delhi Metro (but also the failed Commonwealth Games), follows a logic of creating an outside to the normal state, perhaps or perhaps not in itself a duplicate, a thorny question to which I will return in a moment in closing. The UID Authority under Nilekani infamously carries no statutory authority and though it is housed in the Planning Commission under the Finance Ministry is said to carry informal “Cabinet level” independence as an executive unit.

And exceptions, or outsides, proliferate all the way down, not just at the Cabinet level.  UID outsources its registration in diverse ways, primary to private companies who again produce a new outside to the normal state, but also to NGOs and perhaps most interestingly to state governments, with whom quasi-contractual obligations are set up using a range of documentary forms like the MOU.  UID identifies this outside to the normal state as an “ecology,” utilizing para-ethnography to figure out what particular combination of corporate, social humanitarian, and state agencies in a given region or among a given target population should be used to create such an outside.

Last thoughts

My time is numbered and I can here only hint at what is already for me a complex set of questions in the face of de-duplication and the demand it makes for us to specify what actual politics and what actual ethics may emerge in its wake as a mode of as-if governance.  It should be clear that I am at least for the present not interested in playing the dominant game shared right now by some news media, much of the left academy, and the BJP: that is, in multiplying instances of where UID and the varied ecologies it is setting up have failed. I will like others be over the next few years charting and thinking amid such varied outcomes and effects. But I think we need to pause and look carefully at what de-duplication is before we take the high road of easy (and often undoubtedly justified) denunciation.

Let me close as I opened, with identity as a project that does not produce clarity, and say more about what I meant. UID began as a very different project. The Kargil Commission proposed a biometric ID card for Kashmiris: the burden of data would be highly territorialized, focused on the Reason of Security and the assessment of whether a subject was in the right place. The political impossibility of that Kashmiri only card led to its “universalization” as a National Population Register under the Home Ministry. But Manmohan Singh soon moved the project of the nation cum database out of Home and into Finance and brought in Nilekani to reframe the database in terms of financial inclusion and labor flexibilization through a common biometric platform, a different path to the Big One.

The new program required a fraction of the data fields of the older one and initially stressed deterritorialized identity, enabling or so it was promised entitlements without maintaining a life-time relationship to one’s father’s village or mohalla. By January of this year, the then Home Minister Chidambaram asked the Prime Minister to decide just how many nations-cum-databases there were. The relation of the security focused national Population Register to the liberalization focused UID was clear to no one, or so it seemed.

Negotiations continue.  What is extraordinary is that the very regime of de-duplication that was through big data and biometrics to force India back into history and its rightful place as the Big One was itself, well, duplicated.  The national database, Chidambaram claimed this past January, is now itself troublingly duplicated, and this he forcefully argued was a state of affairs that could not be allowed to last. Nilekani, characteristically, remained silent, perhaps following the pathway of zero.  We are left to wonder whether de-duplication requires its own duplication, and what, as the random numbers proliferate, that may mean.

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

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

A different kind of Greater Noida address

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

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

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

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

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

Hospitalization through duplication

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Duplication as access to care?

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

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

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

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

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

The accusation of address

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

Subject to accusation and continual re-territorialization

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

Tripura redux: Old-age pensions, Aadhaar, and the publicity of inclusion

Before continuing with a set of posts on some recent lectures at CSAS, Berkeley, of relevance to Aadhaar, I want to turn back for a time to the inclusion/exclusion of the Indian Northeast.

Tripura rolls out the red carpet to pension inclusion

Earlier I had posted on a series of themes: (1) on intense debates, in the state of Assam, over whether Aadhaar/UID would legitimate illegal migrants from Bangladesh as de facto citizens by providing residence-based entitlements; (2) on government efforts, in the state of Tripura, to register a high proportion of the state’s population with UID, marking the state as both distinct from the rest of the Northeast and politically and racially central to an Indian polity to which it is geographically peripheral; (3) on millenarian concerns, in the state of Mizoram, that UID/Aadhaar in its reducing each person to an indelible number writ on the body (i.e., biometrics) bespoke the mark of the Beast, that is Anti-Christ.

I want briefly to return to Tripura, which has recently garnered some national and NRI-focused publicity for following the state of Jharkhand in an extensive rolling out of old age pensions. If reporting on a population being granted the technological means for “financial inclusion” under these new terms of national belonging constitutes a “publicity of inclusion,” the Tripura publicity may serve a different set of regional commitments: not so much the developmental commitment to bringing the backward forward, as in the case of Jharkhand, but rather the national-integration and racialized commitment to bringing the geographically and racially marked margin into the center, in relation to Tripura. Tripura’s marginality is arguably complicated by earlier waves of Bengali migration: the resulting distinctive racialization of state identity in relation to the national anthropology of tribal inclusion and difference-fixation, I have argued, produces a doubled intensity of a desire for inclusion, financial-developmental and national-racial, by what is often constituted as a Bengali population-in-exile.

An earlier anthropology, perhaps most notably McKim Marriot‘s distinction between ranked logics of hierarchical “marking” versus center-periphery “mixing” (drawing on distinctions in agrarian gift relations developed in the work of Gloria Raheja but mapping these onto a presumptively pan-Indian epistemology of the social relation), might find these distinct logics of exclusion familiar. If we read Marriott through his most influential reader, Marilyn Strathern, we encounter species of form here. To put it differently, the particular history of multiple Partitions of Bengal in relation to colonial and post-colonial practices of racialized anthropological government produces distinct configurations of subaltern population and place, configurations that cite in their claims on the obvious earlier and persistent forms of marking difference. [The situation around form, if one takes Strathern seriously, is somewhat more complex than I want to render it here.]

Some persistent forms in Agartala, capital of Tripura

One does not have to compare the distinctive publicities of inclusion of Jharkhand versus far-off Tripura: even within the Indian Northeast, the logic of marginality and its relation both to geographies of racialization and long-term grammars of difference varies across states, as the immensely disparate government of inclusion and identification under UID/Aadhaar demonstrates.

I suppose the point here is that UID is being rolled out at “the margin,” but that the logic and form of what a given margin is varies in significant ways: and that if a margin bears a particular relation to the promise of inclusion, that relation will also vary accordingly. And, the second point, that as specific instances of “inclusion” (Jharkhand yesterday, Tripura today) become sites for publicity, they may be subject to a public logic drawn more from a given form of margination than another given form.

Okay: to the article in question: as usual, I post it and offer 3 brief notes.

I will use a version of a globally distributed wire service article (many newspapers having eviscerated their reporting staffs) from online version of the U.S. print tabloid the New York Daily News. The title of the piece suggests a serious error: much previous reportage names Jharkhand, not Tripura, as the first site to be used to roll out the Aadhaar pension program, a different form of the publicity of inclusion. But of course this a wire service article (a service fittingly if tragically named Smartwire) and fact checking by the worthies of the Daily News appears non-existent. Long live American journalism.

The tabloid is publishing a piece that few who do not already have extensive knowledge of the Indian scene could understand, suggesting both that its own publicity increasingly demands experiments with cultivating shifting urban publics (as the NY outer boroughs shift away from the predominantly white working class Catholic enclaves of earlier generations) and that a news site no longer demands that a reporting staff translate specific political worlds for a non-existent general audience.

Aadhaar used for first time in pension distribution

Aadhaar numbers were used in the distribution of pensions on Friday for the first time since their inception. The government-issued identity numbers were used by 194 residents in the northeastern region of Tripura, according to Manohar Biswas, the block development officer. Tripura is the first state to enroll 90 percent of its population – 3.38 million – into Aadhaar, according to an official from the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI). Tripura Gramin Bank is the first regional bank in the country to provide Aadhaar services. The official added that the adoption of Aadhaar marks the beginning of a new system of delivering banking services, including pensions, to people’s doorsteps. During a trip to Tripura in August, Rural Development Minister Jairam Ramesh said Aadhaar-enabled applications would soon be used to provide pensions, wages and scholarships in 50 districts across the country. Of the 50 districts, four are in Tripura and two in Sikkim. Aadhaar was first introduced in Jharkhand last year. UIDAI has enrolled 200 million people for Aadhaar and aims to register another 400 million in the next 18 months.

Three notes:

(1) Rural:  The focus is on rural inclusion. Presumably urban slum inclusion will eventually follow. Gyatri Spivak in a series of talks has counseled attending to the ways the urban/rural binarism works now in organizing projects, resources, and imaginaries.

(2) Capture: Earlier, I posted discussions of the apparent fight between the Security focused NPR and the inclusion-focused UID, the competing repositories for India-as-a-database. In January 2012 India was to be divided in two zones, one under each database, and I suggested that NPR would focus on high security border, minoritzed, and internal insurgency regions. But UID is clearly intent of capturing data in border regions like Sikkim and Tripura and insurgent areas like Jharkhand. The zonal divide is not clear.

(3) Pension: I do not yet know who receives pensions and specifically which programs are at stake here.  I would welcome information.

The New Citizenship, part 1

Universal ID, as the past postings have suggested, is located at the crux of two imaginaries of neoliberal citizenship–security and flexibility–as revealed in the recent tussle over the nation cum database between the Indian Home (security) and Finance (transparency) Ministries. I use “neoliberal” advisedly–as many scholars and activists have pointed out, it comes in our time to stand for everything and nothing–but here it seems an inescapable frame for the citizen.

The new citizen

So what is this citizen, and why do we find ourselves compelled to speak of citizenship at a time of informalized labor migration, growing diminution of legal protections in the face of aggressive state securitization, and the marketization of rights, when the bundle of rights, responsibilities, entitlements, and protections associated with the status of citizen appear to be in question?

I want today to inaugurate a week of postings of the figure of the citizen.  Before proceeding, I want to acknowledge the smart and fearless assistanceship of Jasleen Kaur Singh, new to this blog. I will be delivering a lecture this week at Wayne State University as part of their terrific formation rethinking questions of citizenship, so in effect these posts are preparation for that conversation.

Today I will begin by engaging a piece by Anant Maringanti from EPW [the Economic and Political Weekly of India]. Jasleen, in discussing this piece with me, noted that its points are similar to those I have been working toward across these posts: that both civil and expert discourse on Aadhaar/Universal ID tends toward either inflationary claims and hype or preemptive denunciation; that “considered opinion,” as Maringanti frames it, is lacking; that at stake is a reformation of citizenship. Maringanti goes further, though, and the piece is worth attending to closely.

Of course, as soon as a number of persons begin to attend to something by claiming that no one is attending to it, a sort of contradiction or at least in Foucault’s terms a “speaker’s benefit” is being produced. So I need to be cautious in positioning myself as a heroic figure between denunciation and hype. One could argue that this is the expected position for the social scientist clothed in Weberian asceticism. Let us rather note that Maringanti and I may be part of an alternate form of emerging clamor, one that in claiming the middle ground may not be attending to other, non-scholarly mediations of these conditions of investment and alarm.

Or perhaps I may wish to leave Maringanti out of my auto-critique: it is a very thoughtful piece.

He outlines his approach as follows:

1) identify the broad contours of the state-citizenship debate specifically in India but also more generally in the global circuits of knowledge;

(2) establish the disruptions and the continuities in the state-citizenship relationship signalled by the UIDAI; and

(3) suggest the key features of the emerging terrain of politics implied by the UIDAI.

First, therefore, a mapping of “the state-citizenship debate”: of note is its quire recent emergence, at least within the archives of the EPW:  “it was not until the National Democratic Alliance attempted to introduce the Uniform Civil Code in the late 1990s that the “citizen” as both a substantive and formal category begin to appear in the archives of Economic & Political Weekly. Increasingly concerned about the nature of the expanding “civil society”, and the dilemmas of secularism, historians and sociologists first began to debate “citizenship” in the EPW during 1998-99.”

For this blog, therefore, we may need to turn to the moment toward which Maringanti directs our attention, and to how and why, in India and perhaps elsewhere, the figure of the citizen always calls attention to the figure of “secularism.”

His brief characterization of the debate suggests the emergence of a new attention to “difference” within the universalizing presumptions of secular liberalism: “the debate was marked by sharp differences and tensions that are all too familiar now: the value of post-Enlightenment modernity and universal ideals on the one hand, and the opportunities that are presented by postmodernist perspectives that valorise difference.”

To slightly reframe my last comment: we may need to ask how and why the citizen emerges in relation to a figure of postmodernity. But this question may only interest an old postmodernist like myself.

Maringanti then turns to a 1999 article by the sociologist André Beteille challenging social scientists writing about India for their failure to explore the question of citizenship (apparently oblivious of the 1998-99 flurry of writing to which Maringanti calls attention): Maringanti suggests the challenge was not fair, as “citizenship was a received category in India from western liberal democracies, and in a context where liberal democracy obtained more in form than in substance, political theorists did not really find it to be the most productive avenue for critical intervention.”

Where it was productive (thus the flurry) was in response to the centrality of Hindutva (the so-called Hindu Right) repositioning of the character of the citizen-subject and its form of belonging. Maringanti suggests that the recapture of national-level governance by an alliance led by the Congress Party under Sonia Gandhi, and the persistence of the latter in power for much of the past decade, once again allows the pointed concern with citizenship to recede.

But if Maringanti is correct, the anodyne quality of Congress leadership, its apparent ability to defuse a conversation on the (religiously marked) citizen, is worth thinking with.

In this regard, the shift in the imaginary of Universal ID from Security to the promotion of de-duplicated and efficient Flexibility is worth attending to. One could argue, in attending to the critiques I have discussed of the state’s apparent refusal (in its creating a new register of the biometrically authenticated mobile resident-citizen) to address the presumptive incursion of the Bangaleshi migrant, that an earlier 1990s dualism organizing national politics as a contest between secular promise and religious self-respect is replaced by a dualism of flexibility versus security. This seems far too simple (not the least as Congress rule has been characterized by a plethora of duplicate-based scams), and would require close attention to recent political speech at many levels of scale, but for the moment I will keep it in play.

In the next posting I will continue with Anant Maringanti’s article.

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 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.’

Transgender demographics, counting backwardness, and UIDAI

This is the final post for now on contested campaigns to enrol hijra/kinnar/TG “Residents” into UID. Tomorrow I want to take up the contest over UID in a different context, the Indian Northeastern states (and thanks to Malini Sur for the suggestion pushing me to do so).

The article is again a dated one. The version I cite appeared on 6 November 2011, from the wire service PTI, and is entitled: Over 12,500 eunuchs get ‘Aadhaar.’

New Delhi: More than 12,500 transgenders across the country have been issued ‘Aadhaar’ numbers by the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI). “Aadhaar number is being issued to transgender. As on October 28, 2011, 12,548 of Aadhaar numbers are issued to the community,” the UIDAI said in reply to an RTI query. Besides, close to six crore [60 million] such numbers were issued to individuals within nearly three years since the inception of the authority. The UIDAI has launched the Aadhaar scheme in September last year with a mandate to issue every citizen a 12-digit unique identification number linked to the resident’s demographic and biometric information. People can use their Aadhaar numbers to identify themselves anywhere in India as well as to access a host of benefits and services. “There are 5,85,77,503 number issued,” the UIDAI said replying to the RTI application filed by PTI. However, it could not give year-wise details of Aadhaar numbers issued to eunuchs, as the authority has been facing a manpower crunch because nearly 50 per cent of its total sanctioned strength of 383 are lying vacant. “UIDAI is a new organisation. The process of filling up the posts was initiated in September 2009. 196 posts have been filled up so far,” it said. The UIDAI, which acts as an attached office of the Planning Commission, has issued over one crore Aadhaar numbers and envisages to issue 60 crore [600 million] such identity numbers by 2014. PTI
Three points:
1) In the context of 60 million Aadhaar numbers allegedly issued, 12 and a half thousand may appear quite small: indeed, some well-known queer activists have expressed concern in this regard [personal communication]. The article notes no breakdown was available year by year, presumably such data might have showed [or failed to show] rising enrollments. At stake in the numbers may be both a future-oriented sense of political clout (or lack thereof) and maintaining or increasing flows of NGO-mediated welfare support for community health including HIV/AIDS treatment. To what extent, echoing a concern Maria Ekstrand and Ashveer Singh have raised in comments to an earlier post, will health programs come to depend on UID enrollment?
2) The article noted a failure of UIDAI to produce a data breakdown as a manpower crunch. Half its positions appear as of this article to be “lying vacant.” The implication is not clear: is the UID authority inefficient or corrupt? Are there better jobs elsewhere, in IT? UID’s promise as the “end of corruption and inefficiency” in the version of this report appears to founder on corruption or inefficiency within its own body.
3) The article is shorn of commentary. Why is the number being reported? What mechanisms produced it? As we read further, one might ask: are such articles, reporting the progress of Aadhaar registration, a general feature of life in UID-India? Are places or communities with low enrollments taken as somehow “backward,” the latter a dense signifier in contemporary India? I cannot justify the reading yet, but I have a sense that an imputation of backwardness is somehow at stake here. This theme may be one to follow in the structure of debate on the Northeast.