Thursday, March 3, 2011

66 - if u wud rather be without my aadhar let me know pls...- Vasanthi Panchakshari

if u wud rather be without my aadhar let me know pls...- vasanthi panchakshari
THURSDAY, MAY 27, 2010

Drass is a small town in Kargil district of Ladakh. It is the second coldest inhabited region in the world. Situated at the base of the Zojila pass in the Himalayas, it forms the Himalayan gateway to Ladakh. The green waters of the Indus, the beauty of the Suru valley, the tall snow covered mountains, make it a favoured transit point for trekkers and bikers. Ok so this is about its geography and topography. The intrigue that drives a different kind of tourist to Drass, is of that of the Zorgpas. Zorgpas are the inhabitants of Drass, and they kind of have this unique distinction of being the only "Pure Aryan' race in the world. "Ladakhi hain, hari ankhen hain", they are Ladakhis like us, but they have green eyes, is how one porter from Kargil described the Zorgpas. Apparently they are trailed by, anthropologists, who come back concluding that they are, well, just'Indo-Aryans', and, by German women wanting to contribute to, what do I say, genesis of Pure-Aryan homo sapien(s) ? So, the Zorgpa men are a coveted tribe, not only are they sought after on procreative missions, they take in polyandrous wives as well! That apart, the community follows certain customs/festivities that sanction free and open sex, on those particular festive days. So, this is about some quaintness of a community very far away from Bangalore, even Delhi, for that matter, in a paragraph.

In far flung Arunachal Pradesh and some remote parts of Himachal, polyandry is practised. Is polyandry in these places a result of the skewed male:female ratio? Probably. But if I am right, this ratio is because of natures ways; will have to check on that though. How do people in these cold regions deal with death? Drass hits minus fifty degree Celsius in the winters, Arunachal Pradesh, the land of the rising sun since its the eastern most bit of the country, too is covered by the Himalayas. Inhuman as it may seem, they have their novel ways of letting go of their beloved ones; in some parts of Arunachal Pradesh, the dead are cut into pieces and fed to the fish in the streams and rivers. Ashes to ashes...the societies way, as do the rights and wrongs of morality.

These are just a couple of quaint stories about the remote parts of our country. The remote parts not always lie at the northen most or eastern most tip of the geography on India. The remote parts, can sometime be reached, if we travel just a few hundred kilometres from the metro cities.

Chandragutti is a small village near Sirsi, which is near Karwar. The village has a community of Devadasis. Like most of us would know, devadasis were women married to the Gods, but in reality, they serve the masters of the village/temple; which is prostitution sanctioned by a custom. They have (had) a tradition when on a certain full moon nights, the women strip naked and climb up to the temple on a mountain to offer their prayers. This ritual has been officially banned by the state, but on a trek there, we were told that this still happens, surreptitiously.

Does this quaintness that sets them apart from the rest of the "regular" pockets of the country also cast ambiguity on their existence? Can a devadasi child from Chandragutti, who through some intervention of fate, gets away from the system and place, claim a fail proof identity in a regular pocket of the country, with dignity? Do we have schools and colleges that will take in a child whose fathers name is not known, without the child and the gaurdian having to do the drill of stepping in and out of the labyrinth of government offices? Writing this now, I don't know how much less or more humane our system is while addressing such issues. But less is more likely. Do we have health care policies that the older people in our country can avail of? If yes, then now that distances are being bridged, will a man/woman from Drass in their 80s be able to effortlessly walk into a hospital in Delhi and get the benefit that state has promised, with dignity?

What does identity have to do with dignity? Maybe all and everything. Each one of us who is reading this right now, have an identity that has been established beyond doubt, because of the primary identity that we got as being "so and so's" children. An identity that, a street kid might not be able to establish, an identity that a nameless dead body of some old street dweller might not be able to establish. Identity is everything.

Did I think about the "identity" of the people in Drass when I was there? No. But ongoing debates on a certain unique id project, got me thinking about some of these people I visited once. Needless to say, a debate is always more vocal and forceful about why something should not be done, so also it is, in the case of this unique id project called Aadhar, formerly called UID. I tried to look up for some "official" write up on the project, like an official website that says, " Welcome to Aadhar, this is your friendly guide who will explain its intricacies to you". But I did not find any. What did I find? A lot of super-duper eloquent writing on the fallacies of the project that will eventually be used to enforce a police-state, and that all our privacy will be gone,kaput. The tag cloud of my anti-Aadhar reading would include keywords like, "Panopticism, Orwellian, anti-privacy, racial profiling, etc" some of which I was able to understand, some of which I was not able to understand. There was not much on the pro-Aadhar debate. I tried to search and sive through links, while constantly sneezing out my brains, to at least figure out what this whole Aadhar thing was? What will Aadhar eventually know about me? But there was nothing conclusive anywhere. Somewhere somebody had written that my unique identification would include things like, my name, address, occupation, age, bank account details etc. etc. But what would etc. etc be? That I am allergic to dust on carpets and blankets? That a certain woman in Drass has just one legal husband, and the rest are quasi legal?

In a way, this Aadhar trail left me, the average common citizen of the country, pretty much disappointed. For a start, the owners and promoters of the initiative who have the responsibility of clearly stating its objectives, responsibilities and its expectations from its citizens, have not done any of that. Then they have to also state just why they need this information and where will they store it and when and why will they use it? Since Aadhar is being promoted as a pro poor policy, they also have to explain how the pro poor technology works? In interviews, the people at Aadhar have made generic comments like, " to facilitate enumeration to the poor". This is a damn good thing. But how? How and why does it become an ideal system? Ok, so, through biometric means, my identity has been established and I get my unique number. If I were to be living in a village, and the state has a duty of paying me a pension of Rs. 600 every month, how does this Biometric Id help, or make it corruption free? Will I be biometrically scanned each time I have to collect my pension, or will Aadhar have some kind of an operational policy that will ensure that, the state opens a bank account for me based on my UID and technically, till the money reaches this bank account its flow is corruption free? And, if my son beats me up and takes away the money after it reaches my hands, then well, unless I complain the state cannot do anything about it? Seems like a reasonably good plan to me. But still, I am just guessing.

If a project of this magnitude is going to be a "voluntary" initiative, as in citizens can voluntarily sign up, or reject, then they have to clearly mention what are the Catch 22s involved. Like say,if I choose not to register then I don't have a UID, and the if were to book a ticket on Indian railway, will my ticket read something like, "Reservation confirmed for 21st march 2014, kindly prove identity on boarding" and when I board the train, the TT throws me out with a scribble on my ticket which says, "The existing individual has no UID, and hence does not exist".

About the anti arguments, my lack of better knowledge of the English language and my utter lack of the existence of other societal models, principals and other exponential thoughts, render me incapable of having vaguely structured thoughts on what the anti-ness is based on. But there were a few things that I was able to soak in, that maybe I can write about?

The first and fore most fear seems to be of that of loss of privacy. So the state will know all about its citizens, and this time officially and legally. To me, technically, this seems to be like building a lot of redundancy into the database system, which is a waste. Regarding privacy, what is private? As kids we used to hover around in the drawing room when we got bored with climbing trees outside. These short spells would give us a lot of insight into the adult world. who is getting married, who is eligible for marriage, who is having issues with issues. We grow up and realise even the regular flower vendor down the street is having similar questions, not only about his nieces and nephews but about you as well. "The private space" is an alien and foreign concept. we have philosophical concept of, "ahem brahmasmi", "I am the universe", but not things like "me-time", "me-space, "me-private". A village barber will know the cause of the itch in his clients armpit.

As it stands today, election card details, with all its errors are visible to one and all, online, telephone directories have our address, for all to see. This might mean that 70% of the information that Aadhar wants to collect is already out there in the public sphere. Also, about 70+% of the population might not be really concerned about the privacy thing.

The second fear seemed to be of that of it being, anti-minority, an enabler for racial-profiling. States, all over the world, will continue to do that, as they have always done, smart card or no smart card. The most horrific genocides in history were not because of a smart card. But a system will definitely make it more methodical, more easier. There has been much ire against the "government" that has got the initiative rolling, suggesting evil intentions behind the project. Lets us not kid ourselves, all our politicians and all our political parties are the same. If I remember reading it right, wasn't it Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru who sowed the seed of communal politics when he got Maulana Abdul Kalam Azad to fight the elections from a predominantly muslim constituency? Our only hope is, hope, love and goodness of the comman man in an "apolitical" society.

The other fears seemed to be about security of the system since its centralized. Centralized, decentralized, any system is as secure as we think it is, we can increase the complexity, and thats about it. Then there was this mention about the inefficacy of having a 16 digit UID number, since someone has scientifically proven that humans cannot remember a number that exceed some certain number of digits. I will say, this is not worthy of a comment. Then there was this opposition to Aadhar because they didn' know if the UID would be a number or a card. Then, there was this opposition to Aadhar because it was being spearheaded by Mr. Nandan Nilekani, who is/was an IT Czar, and his family features in the Forbes richest list. Now, how democratic is that? How many of us who have problems with the Nilekanis of the world, and call for revolutionary actions that can remove the shackles that bind the suppressed lot, even bother to have a self rule that we will travel only in public transport, or we will own only the basic minimum as our own, be it private property or other materialistic goods? And then, there were the other issues about the involvment of Microsoft, bigger IT companies, vested interest etc.

Speaking of Microsoft (a small story here), a couple of years back I was on a mission to bring in Supply Chain Management into agriculture/horticulture, Like all my other missions, this too was a personal mission. The amount of produces that perish before they reach the user is, for a country like ours, criminal. So I set on a trail of what exits. The IAS officer I spoke to suggested that I look into a networking project for farmers in Karnataka. The network had 780+ nodes, each node equipped with a desktop computer, internet connectivity, printer, UPS, computer table and chair. I went to one such node near Bangalore. the computer room they said, had remained closed for the last few months (since the time it got there). maybe there was a problem with the computer and the company that sold the computer had not sent their service person. The machine was high end, one could do graphics and animation, and not just check for daily food grain prices. So, all that hifi was going waste. What was also going waste was the "Enterprise Edition" of Windows"! Enterprise edition to check daily rates of a quintal of ragi and rice? Yeah, so what Aadhar in any avatar definitely needs, is a democratic method to choose technology and technology partners.

All said and done, in a way, Aadhar has been the biggest mystery in my life the last two days. To demystify, as a starter, Mr. Nilekani and his team should come out with a book like, "Aadhar for Dummies". If the initiative is voluntary, then the volunteers very well have a right to know what they are volunteering for. And people opposed to it, you, me and all citizens, should maybe first ensure that the book happens, all our doubts are clarified, so that we are sure we know what we have to oppose?

The comic tragedy of societies like ours is, there are very very very few of us who think, that we have to think, for the mind boggling masses, that is the rest of our population. In due course, while doing so, we just so fall in love with our words, our voices, our thoughts and ideas. We then start communicating with well..just ourselves.

-vasanthi panchakshari