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.

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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.