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 РAADHAAR : Current Status Р 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.

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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.