Fifth column: Aadhaar – An idea gone very wrong

The one thing that has changed is that they are all forced now to have an Aadhaar card, and if they want work under the MNREGA, they need to upload their details to get a job card

Written by Tavleen Singh | Updated: January 14, 2018 9:59 am
Aadhaar card, Villagers Aadhaar card, Aadhaar, MNREGA, MNREGA Scheme, India News, Indian Express, Indian Express News The one thing that has changed is that they are all forced now to have an Aadhaar card, and if they want work under the MNREGA, they need to upload their details to get a job card (File)

In the village last week in which I met a man who had an Aadhaar card but could not use it because manual labour had erased the lines on his fingertips, nobody was literate. There is no road to the village, electricity is erratic and clean water impossible. Village water is so awful that villagers regularly get sick, but to get to the nearest hospital they have to walk 2 km to the highway where they take a bus to the nearest town.

To find work they catch the same bus to a stone mine 50 km away, where they earn Rs 300 a day, of which they spend Rs 60 on transport. The rest on somehow staying alive. It has always been this way, but when the BJP government came to power and the Prime Minister promised ‘sabka saath, sabka vikas’ they hoped that things would change.

The one thing that has changed is that they are all forced now to have an Aadhaar card, and if they want work under the MNREGA, they need to upload their details to get a job card. Nobody in the village has a cellphone so they need to go to the nearest town to do this as well.

A village elder said, “We still believe Modiji is a good man and that he wants to do something for us, but please tell him we cannot spend Rs 100 a day on photos and going online.” If anyone needs proof that it is India’s poorest citizens who are most hurt by Aadhaar, let them travel to a village like the one I went to and do a reality check.

At this point I need to remind you that I have been a conscientious objector to the Aadhaar card. I did not get one for as long as I could because I thought it was a dangerously irresponsible idea, but in the end was forced to get one because it is impossible to do anything in India now without this wretched card.

When banks start demanding one and when even couriers bringing books from Amazon refused to hand them over without it, I was forced to go to a little hole in the wall in my village and get photographed and fingerprinted. By then the long queues had gone.

Last week when the privacy issue made headlines, Nandan Nilekani, the man responsible for this unique identity idea, said there was a malicious campaign against Aadhaar. Not true, Nandan. People like me have objected to it from day one because we understand the ways and wiles of Indian officialdom better than you do.

Literate Indians learn to deal with them by oiling palms and slipping through loopholes, but if you are illiterate and poor and living in rural India, things like Aadhaar end up becoming just another way for some rural official to make your very hard life even harder.

In the villages I visited last week, I asked if there was a place where they could take their grievances and find remedies. They said, “Yes. We can go to the collector, but to get there we have to spend Rs 500 on transport. We don’t have that kind of money to spend.”

Mr Nilekani also said that Aadhaar was here to stay. Yes it is now, and it’s bad luck that Indian taxpayers have spent billions of rupees on adding yet another card to the many we already have, but something needs to be done to stop this card from becoming a monster.

It is bad enough, as the Supreme Court has already pointed out, that it has begun to seem as if we stop being Indians if we lose our cards. But, can we at least stop making it compulsory to do almost everything, from opening a bank account to getting public services that is the fundamental duty of our worthless officials to provide.

It is unfortunate that protests against Aadhaar have come mostly from educated Indians in towns and cities who have raised issues of privacy and identity theft. These voices are heard louder only because those who are really suffering under the weight of Aadhaar are voiceless.

It is ironic that it is those who really need government subsidies to survive the horrors of living below the Indian poverty line now suffer even more because of a card that was supposed to help them. If this information has not reached the Prime Minister’s office it is because his MPs and MLAs rarely visit villages to which there are no roads.

In the villages that I visited last week, the elected representatives of these desperately poor people have not been seen since they last came to ask for their votes in 2014. They gave them happily because they liked what Narendra Modi was saying about ‘parivartan’.

Follow Tavleen Singh on Twitter @ tavleen_singh

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  1. smriti sharma
    Jan 18, 2018 at 3:44 pm
    The persons commenting on how the system is not perfect and Tavleen only spoke to a small sample of people are missing the point of the article. The system is faulty, as are many systems in India and puts our most vulnerable population at risk of greater exploitation. We haven't heard more "noise" from 1.2 billion because the people in remote villages don't have a voice.Our elected representatives who should be their voice, fail them miserably. Every time, every party. Lets not pretend its all hunky dory when a daily wager has to choose between a square meal for their family or updating Aadhar details for the 100th time.
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    1. Rahul B
      Jan 17, 2018 at 1:54 pm
      I have read and introspected the article. You are against Aadhar because few people have not been able to use it due to fingerprints on fingers not being able to identify them. The fact is, India is a 1.2 billion country and there will always be someone who is at loss. You cannot dump every problem onto the government or the current Prime minister ( whichever party he maybe ). The problem you have mentioned is sensible. Other ways of authenticating will need to be done and it is something that can be worked out in due time. We dont live in a magic land where no problem exists or execution happens the perfect way. We need to make timely corrections and provide solutions as we go ahead.
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      1. Janakiraman Rajalakshmi
        Jan 16, 2018 at 2:31 pm
        Tavleen Singh , it is not just the poor who are the victims. A middle class housewife like me ALSO is in the same predicament. Owing to doing routine household chores like washing utensils , cooking and so on almost all the fingerprints in my hands also have got erased.
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        1. Janakiraman Rajalakshmi
          Jan 15, 2018 at 10:52 pm
          Totally agree with Tavleen Singh I totally support her too. It is true Tavleen Singh was one of those who objected to this Aadhaar Card scheme right from the beginning. Even P.Chidambaram who was a Minister then said it posed heavy security risks. Right from that time it was Nandan Nilekani that was zealously pushing it on us. I recall he even had political ambitions but lost heavily in Bangalore. Modi while campaigning made strident anti Aadhaar card noises promised to scrap it altogether. But did a complete somersault after Nilekani spent some hours with Modi behind closed doors. Modi announced Aadhaar Cards were a must for all.
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          1. suneet shrotri
            Jan 16, 2018 at 11:31 am
            U mean Nilekanni bribed Modi?. Quite possible.
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            1. Janakiraman Rajalakshmi
              Jan 16, 2018 at 2:24 pm
              Certainly not. The actual reasons were long given by CHO Ramasvamy. When Congress was the ruling party Aadhaar was zealously mooted pursued by Nandan Nilakeni. Reasons are best known to him his supporters. Who keep repeating the same lines like a prerecorded cassette. What CHO Ramasvamy said is - lot of money had been wasted ( invested if you want a politically correct word) on paperwork etc automatically ensuring employment opportunities for various people involved. Modi's scrapping would have thrown all topsy turvy. When presented with these ground realities Modi found it expedient to renege on his pre poll promises made it compulsory for all.
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              1. Janakiraman Rajalakshmi
                Jan 16, 2018 at 2:27 pm
                Call it paper work or digital work / computer work. It is all the same. Too many people around who have to be kept employed so that they do not turn restive agitating against gorement. Elementary.
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            2. Jatinder Pal Joshi
              Jan 15, 2018 at 6:01 pm
              I do not understand Tavleen's grouse against the Aadhar card - a single and unique biometric ID card for all residents, irrespective of age, class, status or any other differentiator. I am certain that Tavleen has given her biometrics to get a US/ Canadian visa - so, what is so different in giving it to your iwn government, except that you can protest here, even if you are unjustified. Any right thinking human can fathom the advantages of biometric linking in keeping track of subsidies/ welfare schemes and unaccounted wealth generation and disposal/ parking in assets, which until now have been difficult to track, like gild, benami property and foreign accounts. Security of data is an issue, which is being plugged, but it is also a fact that no software is hacker proof. By Tavleen's logic ni ine should have/ use a credit card/ smart phone too. Lets work towards solutions rather than play a bigger part in problem creation and spreading negativity.
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              1. smriti sharma
                Jan 18, 2018 at 3:47 pm
                biometrics for US visa are a choice. You can choose to not travel to any country that fingerprints you. Your daily life will not be in a turmoil because of it. Aadhar is being made compulsory to get birth certificate- death certificate and everything in between, impacting essential services. No other example you provided (credit cards, visa fingerprinting, smart phone) impacts our poorest of poor in the same way.
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