More on the “UID and Transgenders” Conference 1

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

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

3 quick notes before proceeding:

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

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

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

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“UID and Transgenders” Conference: Rights Activists Nix Aadhaar

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

Sexual minorities: UID makes them unique target

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

3 quick thoughts:

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

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

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

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

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