(Aadhar, the new ID card which is virtual indexing of the entire population, is reminiscent of George Orwell’s famous novel 1984!)
One of the most important aspects of a totalitarian or a fascist regime is indexing of the population so as to keep watch over their activities. It is virtually practical implementation of the famous slogan in 1984, the “Big Brother is Watching You” in a different form and shape. The pupil scan, the finger prints, the photograph and all other particulars for each citizen are being digitised. Additionally, DNA and many other biometric elements are being added. Subsequently, all activities are being linked to the Aadhar number. Imagine digitising the entire population of 1.25 billion people! It must be the biggest enterprise of this type in history. The digital India of the future! The data base must be massive. On the positive side it may be a big help in doing away with forms, applications and so on. Just keeping a finger on the digital finger print reader gives out all one’s parameters! Definitely, it is going to end a lot of paper work. The entire project is being executed by private companies with foreign collaboration.
There are umpteen articles on the Google about the advantages and disadvantages of the Aadhar project. It would be interesting to reproduce some of the observations. Aamjanta.com has an article “Intellectual Anarchy” which gives a detailed background of the Aadhar project. Some portions are quoted here for the information of people in general. “The Aadhar is the Unique Identity number for India. The project involves issuing identity cards to all citizens which will have their biometric data stored on computers, very strangely, located in USA. Virtually, it is a Silicon Valley project! The cost of the project is estimated to be Rupees 1, 50, 000 crores! Incidentally the entire census project in 2011 which reached every citizen and created an information base that is of tremendous utility and diverse applications, cost only 2200 crores! Additionally, while the investment is done using government funds, ready databases will be controlled by private entities (who will profit from offering identification services), and the government will be paying customers of the databases it has already spent a bomb to create”.
Another website, moneyline.in carries an article by Gopal Krishna of Civil Liberties Organisation. Some excerpts from it: “The most worrisome aspect is the invasion of privacy of the citizens. Right to privacy and freedom belong to citizens by right. It is not granted by government. A government is the servant of the citizens, not its master. Governments are supposed to seek the permission to limit these rights in certain circumstances. It signals a break-down of a democratic government if it chooses to engage in indiscriminate surveillance of citizens or to impose a system of compulsory identification or to open a file on each citizen or to criminalise citizens who refuse to comply.”
“Biometric identification treats Indian citizens worse than slaves. It is an act of identification prior to any act of omission and commission. It is a case of a deepening of everyday surveillance. It is similar to what was done under the Britain’s Habitual Criminals Act of 1869 required police to keep an “Alphabetical Registry” and cross-referenced “Distinctive Marks Registry. The first held names and the latter contained the descriptions of scars, tattoos, birthmarks, balding, pockmarks, and other distinguishing features”. The surveillance aspect is the real worry. Biometrics can allow with the help of drones locate any person and monitor all activities within seconds! Government will also be in a position to know of everything by linkage with various activities.
“The proposed convergence of biometric information with financial and personal data such as residence, employment, and medical history heralds the beginning of the demolition of one of the most important firewalls in the structure of privacy. Such convergence of databases poses a threat to minorities and political opponents as they can be targeted in a situation where government is led by any Nazi party like political formations”. Incidentally, we have the present dispensation working on those “lines”. People in many of the US States and UK have rejected similar unique identity number. The privacy laws do not allow such intrusion.
Incidentally, the Supreme Court had observed that Aadhar is not mandatory but an optional thing. However, in spite of these directions, most of the government departments, banks and other public utility services are coercing people not only to go for Aadhar but to link all services with it on a compulsory basis. Every day one receives messages from mobile companies, banks and so on to link Aadhar against pain of disconnection or closure of accounts! It is really a totalitarian state coercion.
Keeping in view the cost of the project and then its utility for the major portion of the population, one wonders whether it is really worth it. Millions of Indians are still living below the poverty line where they cannot even afford a square meal daily! Large portion of the population is without cured water supply. Majority of the population in rural areas still use fields to ease themselves in spite of the project to provide toilet facilities all over India. Would it not have been better to spend this Rupees 1, 50, 000 crores on providing basic welfare services including the missing healthcare? It is tragic and ironic that Prime Minister Modi can find crores to give Aadhar card to everyone but there is no money to give oxygen to dying children in Gorakhpur Hospital! Something to ponder upon! Isn’t he climbing the wrong tree?
Mohammad Ashraf, I.A.S. (Retired), Former Director General Tourism, Jammu & Kashmir