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.

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


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.