Five years on, we need to examine our xenophobic reactions and paranoia of the intrusive state.
Five years and Rs 4,000 crore ($800mn) later, there is a pregnant pause. “Are you who you claim you are?” is a question that more than 60 crore Indian residents can now answer with integrity. Twenty-three out of the 36 states and Union territories of India can now verify the authenticity of more than half its residents. Adorning false identities with motives of terror or poverty can now be eliminated. Clumsy mnemonics of combinations of name and parents’ names to prevent duplication can now be replaced with an elegant fingerprint validation. The three lakh crore ($60bn) spent every year in welfare schemes with an estimated leakage of Rs 30,000 to 50,000 crore ($6-$10bn) solely due to false identities can now be plugged. All with the help of the Unique Identification Authority of India’s Aadhaar programme. A programme that captured the biometrics of 60 crore residents in four years at a cost of Rs 65 per person and for a total amount that is less than what the top two corporate loan defaulters owe their banks.
Yet, there are apprehensions over its longevity as Aadhaar awaits its fate under the new establishment. There is almost a xenophobic reaction to Aadhaar. It conjures up an image of terrorists from the western borders or illegal immigrants from the eastern borders of the country masquerading as foreign residents, and being legitimised through this system. Or a phobia of tyranny, a country where its citizens are stripped of all privacy rights and live in perpetual fear of the state watching them through this Aadhaar x-ray prism.
It is indisputable that national security is of paramount importance to any sovereign state. Economic benefits, efficient service delivery, citizen convenience, etc, are merely ornamental if the system that delivers these benefits compromises on internal security. Most large sovereign states in the world, such as Japan, the US and the UK, capture biometrics of only their foreign visitors and/ or migrant workers. Biometric identification of foreign residents or visitors is deemed essential by these nations ostensibly to stamp out security threats. Surely, the decision to use biometric identification as a primary tool by these developed nations was taken after much deliberation with utmost priority to continued…