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.

Bodo-Muslim Violence and the Question of Identity Cards for Assam: Security as a Negative Condition

Some months ago I posted about the complexities of the UID/Aadhaar biometric program in India’s northeastern states, areas often marginal to Delhi-based national politics. Given that professional anthropology plays a large role in the institutions that organize and govern the racial and cultural presumptions of “tribal” identity across the Northeast, one could argue that the anthropology of the new biometrics bears a particular kind of responsibility to a different kind of engagement in relation to conditions of identity there. Meanwhile, time has not stood still and Assam again dominates the Indian news as a site of intense and upsetting “communal violence.”

Help: Charities in the new refugee camps

Months ago, my focus was threefold: (1) on concerns in the state of Assam that illegal Bangladeshi migrants would use the “residence”-based registration of UID to become citizens, de facto or de jure; (2) on efforts in the state of Tripura to rival the southern hi tech powerhouse Andhra Pradesh in number of persons registered, and how these might relate to the (legal) Bengali-migrant dominated state’s efforts to evade the peripheral condition of the tribalized Northeast; and (3) on reports in the state of Mizoram that some Christian pastors had been challenging the UID/Aadhaar “number” itself as the the apocalyptic “mark of the Beast,” raising both familiar and new questions about the occurrence of millenarian realities.

Even as I was writing those earlier posts, concerns over migration and their relation to the long apparent “instability” of Assam had led to the extraordinary move of shelving the entire project of UID in the state, or so reports (like the one I cite below) noted last January (2012). If so many minimal entitlements are to be tied to the card and number, then what it means for an entire state and its territory to be excluded from Aadhaar and its great promise (or, for its many critics, to escape the surveillance and exploitation of the program), is quite important to consider: both for Assam and its own out-migration, and more generally for its economic and political relations to the rest of India.

Over the summer of 2012, Assam has been daily in the news for intensifying waves of conflict over which groups have rights in land and legitimacy, joining debates over recent Bangladeshi migrants to relations between non-tribal and tribal communities to the many descendents of earlier, multiple migrations. Particularly at stake are relations between the Bodos, who were after longtime struggle granted certain rights over four districts in the state, and Bengali Muslims and Hindus, some of whom are and some are not “illegal” but whom a national political discourse at times identifies as illegal Bangladeshi Muslim migrants tout court.  Large numbers of killings have occurred, of Bodos and migrant Hindus but particularly of migrant Muslims (though I cringe as I write this for its vagueness is unacceptable: understanding where and how the killings have occurred and with what backing is critical. There are many scholars whose current work I will depend on, including Malini Sur and Garga Chatterjee). At present, camps for the large numbers, particularly  Muslims, who have fled for their lives have been set up in lower Assam, both local and religious charities and international humanitarian organizations appeal for needed resources to ensure food, clothing, water, and medication, and the state is trying to urge frightened and unwilling people to return to these contested villages with promises of secure if heretofore dodgy governance.

Even before the killings intensified and the refugee camps had to be established, UID/Aadhaar had not featured prominently in past months of the English-language press in Assam that is available via the Internet (but that admittedly is a restricted field). Given that what dominates the press are variant framings right now of Assam’s exceptional status, it seemed useful to return to the question of identity, particular amid the current moment in which a different form, the humanitarian camp and the basic emergency “kit” (see the work of Peter Redfield) dominate the organization of the minimal entitlement. So how do camps relate to Universal ID as forms of rationalized entitlement and control?

This at least is a question to gesture towards.

For today, I offer an earlier article from last January, announcing the exceptional status of Assam vis-à-vis the Aadhaar number, from the Assam Tribune of January 28, 2012.

Aadhaar cards unlikely to be issued in Assam
NEW DELHI, Jan 27 – The Aadhaar cards issued by the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) are unlikely to be rolled out in Assam and other North Eastern States, barring Tripura and Sikkim. A meeting of the Cabinet Committee on Unique Identification Authority of India related issues (CC-UIDAI) chaired by Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh decided to limit the issue of Aadhaar cards to 60 crore [ 600 million] population spread over 16 States and Union Territories. In the rest of the States, the national identity numbers would be issued on the basis of the National Population Register.

Briefing newsmen, Union Home Minister P Chidambaram and deputy chairman of Planning Commission Montek Singh Ahluwalia said that in all cases the NPR data base would prevail. However, Aadhaar numbers would prevail in those States where it has been issued. And in rest of the States, the NPR exercise would continue.

The States where the Aadhar cards have been rolled out included Andhra Pradesh, Goa, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, Jharkhand, Karnataka, Kerala, Uttar Pradesh, Delhi, Maharashtra, Sikkim, Puducherry, Tripura and Rajasthan among others.

UIDAI uses information on five fields, while NPR seeks information on 15 fields. The entire exercise of issue of NPR is targeted for completion in 18 months by June 2013, said the Home Minister.

The Cabinet meeting called today to resolve the differences between the Home Ministry and the Planning Commission over the issue of Aadhaar cards and the national identity cards, worked out a compromise formula, under which the limit of the Aadhaar cards have been fixed. The Home Ministry has now been mandated to carry out the NPR project in rest of the States.

About the security concerns flagged by the Home Ministry, Chidambaram said that UIDAI has agreed to review all the information it has collected. At the moment they have agreed to review the entire process to address all the security concerns.

The security concerns included the possibility of the cards falling into the hands of the illegal migrants and subsequent misuse of the cards to avail of the government schemes. The infiltration prone North Eastern States including Assam, were particularly referred in this regard.

3 points.

(1) At stake, as noted in an earlier blog post, is the contest that had come to a head at the beginning of 2012 over the control of the national identity database between the security focus of the Home Ministry and the liberalization focus of the Finance Ministry. The Home Ministry, then under the powerful Chidambaram, officially won that battle with its census-driven “National Population Registry” [NPR] named as the ultimate arbiter of de-duplicated universal ID. But the article reveals that India is in effect divided into two: what I will term power zones and security zones. Power zones comprise the wealthier South and the politically powerful Hindi-heartland North. Security zones are insecure border states, though notably not Rajasthan, and insecure insurgency states, though notably not Jharkhand where several UID/Aadhaar programs targeting the elderly were first rolled out.
Assam and the north-east (minus the exception-to-the-exception Tripura) are here framed as the sine qua non of the insecure condition and the core of the NPR and its security zone.

(2) In the wake of the earlier massacres, and amid ongoing killings, local state and district government is trying to encourage the refugees from the Bodo districts to return, with promises of normalcy. What kind of normalcy is and can be expected in the security zone? Famed for the wealth of tea plantations, dependent upon the rationalized and secure labor of the Bengali migrants, one might imagine the Bodo lands economically as power zones: but the history of modern Assam and its racialized state governance and anti-state struggle belie that.

(3) Universal ID began as a Security measure: the conundrums of the liberal-security state led to its capture by the Planning and Finance people. The latter promised far more than Chidambaram, who really seemed to offer at best the status quo of security but not the neoliberal version of universal development. But Security as a state concern remains vital, and now despite the political efforts to commensurate the two data-gathering massive enterprises they seem to remain split, and perversely duplicated. That is, the very promise of the de-duplicated future has led to a massive duplication in the imaginary of the nation as database. If UIDAI/Aadhaar stands for the new conditions of the neoliberal social, that is of the promises of development in the aftermath of the failed planning state, Security has become the negative of that promise, and the two are kept distinct through the establishment of what are in effect two parallel zones of government by distinct ecologies of information.

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

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

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

Tripura leads in UID enrolment

Sep 26, 2011

UID

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

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

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

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

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

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

Three things:

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

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

the future of entitlement?

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

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

UID and Bangladeshi migrants: Worries from an Assam newspaper

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

Anti-Bangladeshi migrant student meeting, Assam

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

UID work to start in Assam

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

3 comments:

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

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

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

On the “shocking” disappearance of persons in Assam

Assam is the largest of India’s long marginalized Northeastern states. I begin with a Facebook posting of Aadhaar/UID enrollment numbers that seem to the poster to suggest that almost no one in the state of Assam is being registered. At stake appears to be the disappearance of an entire state, or at least of its future promise in relation to the guarantees of UID.

by Project BUG – Build Up Guwahati.
[Posted on Friday, April 1, 2011 at 11:20am]

Unique Identification – AADHAAR : Current Status –  Statewise

“Andhra Pradesh”,”1351691″

“Karnataka”,”1230990″

“Tripura”,”478817″

“Maharashtra”,”405228″

“Jharkhand”,”325893″

“Madhya Pradesh”,”139211″

“Himachal Pradesh”,”89444″

“Delhi”,”57490″

“Uttar Pradesh”,”51131″

“West Bengal”,”29572″

“Tamil Nadu”,”16401″

“Uttarakhand”,”13146″

“Bihar”,”3957″

“Manipur”,”2563″

“Orissa”,”2253″

“Pondicherry”,”1662″

“Gujarat”,”1352″

“Chhattisgarh”,”1236″

“Punjab”,”1171″

“Sikkim”,”1093″

“Chandigarh”,”1034″

“Others”,”1895″ < it may include Assam , not sure >

Data collected from: http://portal.uidai.gov.in/uidwebportal/dashboard.do?lc=h as on 1st April 2011 ( No manupulation of data is done , in case if you have any doubt please match with the given official link ).

1) The numbers for all states are incredibly low at the moment of the data collection. Are we still too early in the game? Is this resistance to Aadhaar, in Assam or elsewhere? Is this the “manpower crunch” reported in a previous post? Is there an error somewhere in this chain of reported information? Or is this the marginalization of the Northeast, yet again? Such questions seem to hover here.

2) We watch: the poster, and then the blogger, and now you, follow along as the counts of persons in this or that region, or of this or that community, rise or stagnate. I write this as my hometown San Francisco [American] football team just lost a major championship game, so my mind is on vehicles of collective identification, like sports teams, and their failure. Here the identification is with a number. Does identification with or investment in a sense of place come to depend on what we might term its enumerative value? Does the number, to continue the football analogy, become some kind of totem? Do groups come to experience their demography? Is this the effect of unique identification?

Of course, building on the work of Patricia and Roger Jeffery, one could argue that enumerative value is no new social fact, in India or elsewhere. The context of the Jeffreys’ work is of course family planning and anti-natalism. How UIDAI may transform both regional, communitarian, and expert understandings of population and pro-natalism is an interesting question.

3) The UIDAI portal the Facebook post directs us to indeed suggests immense disparities in registration, with two relatively “forward” states (Andhra Pradesh and Maharashtra) bearing the lion’s share of registrants. Assam remains almost invisible graphically (as, of note, are transgenders in the subsequent breakdown of current enrollments by gender). Backwardness, always a bit of a floating signifier in terms of the work it does, here takes on a new graphical interface.