Rural & Urban Indian Youth Tell Us How They Feel About The Aadhaar Card

Rural & Urban Indian Youth Tell Us How They Feel About The Aadhaar Card
Daily Mail UK

Three years ago, exactly 5 months after my 18th birthday, I walked into a small, dingy room in a crowded part of Saharanpur, a small town in Western Uttar Pradesh. Making my way up a shabby staircase, I saw heaps of people come down. From businessmen to farmers and labourers, each one seemed content and hopeful, discussing the now so-close-you-could-touch-it Achhe Din, because they had enrolled for the Aadhar Card. Least bothered with the ‘whats and whys’ of Aadhar I simply went and stood in line impatiently on the command of my mother who thought I should get done with the formality. It seemed pretty neat back then. A unique identity number, a step towards digitization and doing away with cumbersome documentation. Most importantly, it was voluntary. In those days, the disastrous consequences of trusting the government with personal information that is central to my identity did not really cross my mind. In fact, it wasn’t until a few months ago when my phone constantly started buzzing with messages mandating me to link my Aadhar card to my pan card, my mobile number, my university account and pretty much my entire existence, that I started questioning everything at all. I wasn’t alone either. Being constantly pestered into linking everything to our aadhar cards without any constitutional grounds began to trouble many Indians. How safe is our information? Is the government equipped to handle such a large database of sensitive information? Most importantly given all the distinctly foreboding events that have followed Modi’s election, are we as a country not approaching a state of Totalitarianism, by being mandated to give in information we may not be comfortable sharing?

The chorus of this debate on social media has been deafening, and its most active partakers have been the youth of the country. Perhaps the first generation of Indians to have fully considered notions of privacy and individualism at all. Everyone knows what an Aadhar is and everyone has an opinion, if not, then definitely a meme. Is Aadhar really Aam Aadmi Ka Adhikar, a harbinger of Ache din we have all been waiting for or is Aadhaar a bhar on the Aam Aadmi, only a mirage to the Ache Din. As the linking deadline neared, I spoke to many youngsters across demographics to understand their sentiment towards the Aadhar card. The responses have been as puzzling as the Supreme Court verdict.

But First, A Short Journey Of The Aadhar Card

From Voluntary to Mandatory to Somewhere In Between

Aadhaar is perhaps the most ambitious digital identity project in history and though its being pushed forward by the BJP, it was first introduced by the Congress led UPA Government in 2009, a fact many tend to forget to their own convenience. Ever since then Aadhar has had quite a journey, with the BJP being quite smart in introducing it as a money bill. There were several petitions filed in the court first demanding how Aadhar fit the definition of a money bill followed by arguments of how it was a direct violation to right to privacy. With all these cases in court, the deadline of the mandatory linking keeps extending and for the first time the joke is on the obedient….or is it? While the matter rests in court, the consequences of not linking Aadhar Card can already be observed.

Image Source: TOI/Ramesh Srivats

Do we really have an option?

The Quint in one of their reports rightly compared the Aadhar Card to Schrodinger’s Cat – compulsory and voluntary at the same time. An Aadhar card is required to file tax returns. A person who ‘chooses’ not to have an Aadhar card would not be able to do so, thus making him a criminal under law. The paradox is indeed puzzling to people who have been very smartly, left with no choice. “I will avoid linking as long as I can. But if I don’t, and If my bank account, mobile connection is blocked... do I really have a choice here?” questions 21-year-old cinematographer Aditya Suryawanshi. “I had avoided making an Aadhar card till the very last month. Until it came to the point that I wouldn’t get a sim card or an appointment letter without having the card. Even sim operators keep telling (or rather, subtly threatening) me to cut off services if my number is not linked. It’s not much of a choice, really!” says 21-year-old Priyanka Prakash, a Bangalore-based media professional. The sentiment is shared by most people interviewed for this story who said they would do it only because they didn’t have a choice and out of fear of their accounts being frozen and telecom services being blocked.

However youth from the rural belt suggested otherwise saying the Aadhar has helped them avail of many government schemes more conveniently. Sushant Dilip Hande, 19, a student from Laxmiwadi village in Kolhapur district says, “I belong to the NT-B category and the scholarship amount I am eligible for is deposited every year in the bank account. This year, however, the authorities asked us to link the Aadhar card with the bank account or else the amount wouldn’t have been sanctioned. I can say that it’s a good step because Aadhar has replaced the traditional documents and has also reduced the need for submitting many documents for availing any government subsidy.” Laxman Pandey from a village in Ghazipur district of Uttar Pradesh says, “Aadhar jeevan sathi ban gaya hai ab (Aadhar has become life partner now). I am happy with this move because Aadhar has brought down the apathy I faced at the hands of officials at several fronts. It was only because of Aadhar card that I got my ration card finally. Now, whenever I travel from the railways, I can show my Aadhar card as the ID Proof. Earlier they always penalized me for not carrying the ID proof which they required.”

However, is the youth, both in the urban and rural sectors aware about the kind of information they are being forced to share with the government in the name of Ache Din?

Image Source: TOI

Can we trust the government we elected?

The Aadhar card is used just about everywhere. From government institutions to private companies to ration shops, everyone has access to our unique identity number and personal information that can be too easily hacked into. However, with social media constantly debating about it, the urban youth does seem to be aware of the kind of information it is entrusting the government with. The rural youth and young slum-dwellers do not have access to much information. For them, the priority remains accessing welfare schemes without being exploited. Amol Narbal, 20, from Laxmiwadi village in Kolhapur district of Maharashtra who works as a labourer in a mill says, “For months, the mobile network carrier kept calling me to link my Aadhar card with the mobile number. It didn’t stop at calls, they kept texting every day and I was so frustrated with these continuous calls and texts, that I eventually linked it with the mobile number. I don’t know what harm giving biometrics can cause, as we are unaware of it. If I hadn’t linked my Aadhar, they would have cut off my SIM connection.”

Contrary to this, 23-year-old banking professional from Baroda, Rehan Kadri says “I am aware of the information which the government can access through this, but it is all for good. It’s obviously a bit risky to share bio metric and iris scan, but if there is proper privacy maintained the risk can be minimized. A similar sentiment is observed by Jaipdeep Marathe, a 28-year-old Practicing C.A from Pune who says “we share a lot more info with Google, FB, WhatsApp etc. I don’t see why we can’t share it with the government we have ourselves elected.” Vidushi Pandey, 19, Girls Coordinator of ABVP, the student wing of BJP in Hindu College, Delhi questions “I trust government with my details. I mean if we can share our credit card details on any shopping or other services websites why not with the government?”

Time and again, there have been pertinent questions raised about information database being hacked into. Issues of fraudulent use of finger prints to attain sim cards, unauthorized storing of information and wrongful appropriation of identity to commit crimes are just some of the many problems that can arise. Moreover an identity theft is irreversible and if committed, the person may not even find out as the Unique Identification Authority of India is not mandated to inform citizens about information breach. However the government has assured us about the top cyber security measures that will be taken to protect it. But forget hacking, just a few days ago there was a major leak of information on 210 government sites that made the Aadhar card public.

Are we at a risk of an identity theft?
The debate around Right To Privacy and government efficiency to handle a humongous database.
Vrinda Bhandari, an advocate actively involved in the Aadhar privacy litigation says that “Making the Aadhar card mandatory is a violation of not just decisional privacy but also bodily privacy. Biometrics and iris scan are the most integral part of our identity which would be stored in a highly vulnerable and risky database.The possibility of an identity theft thus very much becomes a possibility, which is irreversible unlike the case of a credit card theft.”

A lot of people understand this and feel uncomfortable sharing this information with the government. Today, our PM is pushing for digital India, payments are being made using thumb prints and iris scans as authentication, however digital archiving of such sensitive information containing biometrics is risky. Moreover this information can be contracted by private firms that do not have government supervision all the time.

“The biggest disadvantage is centralization of all information. They have been selling it on the idea that this is a one-stop solution, but it is also the one-stop storage of all my personal information. And with the poor security systems in place, how do I go ahead exposing all my details to any misuse? It is a direct breach to my right to privacy,” states Anjali Sharma, a Journalism student from Chennai.

Talking about the psychology of forcing people into giving information, Dhruv Khurana, a 22-year-old law student from Bhopal says, “Aadhar violation to an extent is a violation to right to privacy and looks like a forced step but then given the pros it will be necessary for the govt that it will make it mandatory. You cannot have half the people using it and half not. However they could have made this not look like a compulsion and just given incentives to do the same. The general psychology of people is that they don’t like being forced.”

The rural youth, especially laborers, are more concerned about inclusivity and access to welfare schemes. How beneficial is the aadhar to the poor and how inclusive is it of manual labourers whose fingerprints fail to register?

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Aadhar to the Poor: Access and Inclusivity of the Aadhar

A recent op-ed in Hindustan Times quoted Kaushik Basu, a former Chief Economic Advisor to the govt. of India says “A sudden digitalisation in an emerging economy like ours will be devastating for the poor.” With recent reports of deaths by starvation in Jharkhand as a result of not being able to access ration because of the biometric machine signal being ‘weak’, the problems in the hinterland are much more graver. Talking to a few construction workers hailing from rural Bengal, working in Mumbai, we found that the biometric at ration shops usually failed to register their finger prints that are faint due to all the manual labour they do. Tapas, 20, holds up his muddy, wrinkled fingers up to me saying how he has to make multiple rounds of the ration shop in hope that somehow the machine recognizes his bio metrics. A similar tale is narrated by Barqat Ali, 21 and Izad, 20, who say they are happy with the Aadhar as it has reduced the need of multiple documents but feel that the government should really think about the labourers and reintroduce special biometric mechanisms for them. The apathy towards leprosy patients, facial reconstruction surgery patients, visually impaired remains the same.

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To be or not to be?
The proposed pros of Aadhar Card and if it should be made mandatory.

The biggest benefit of the Aadhar card is the unique identification of all Indian residents will help in solving crimes. It will help remove fraud details provided in various government schemes, will reduce leakages and keep a check on the income tax returns of the person. However the risks supersede the benefits. “Whatever little advantages come out of a system of unique identification is citizens lose their value when you start imposing them by force. Why, despite the courts ordering the Aadhar enrolling to be voluntary are governments as well as banks forcing this extraction of information? That’s where the problem begins,” states Anjali Sharma. A similar thought is shared by Tarana Emmanuel, 21, from Delhi who says, “I’m not uncomfortable with the idea of sharing it but I have a bigger problem with the fact that it is mandatory and that I do not have a choice in the matter. It should not be made mandatory.”

Image Source: NewsBytes

The Stand Of The Opposition And The Mandate of the Aadhar
Are we approaching a state of totalitarianism?

Though the Aadhar bill was first introduced by the Congress led UPA government, it has been missing from the debate of the Aadhar. Young congressman, Hamza Masood from Saharanpur jurisdiction says “Congress introduced Aadhar for different reasons. BJP is using it for its lame schemes. Aadhar should be used only as identity card.” Many feel that by making the Aadhar card mandatory, we would function smoother as a democracy with all our information in place. But given the overnight decision of demonetization and the events that had unfolded ever since, there have been discussions on how we as a country may be approaching a state of totalitarianism. “Probably it is a new-age totalitarianism backed by superb PR where the control or authority is not in-your-face but in fact wrapped in sweet promises of better access to ration and convenience of digitizing day-to-day operations,” responds Anjali.

The opposition maybe weak but the media (and social media) which acts as the 4th pillar of the democracy is strong enough to not let the unfortunate day come. We’ve seen that impact at work with Net Neutrality. However, we may be approaching a state of surveillance, where the government wants to keep a track of all our information. The issue is that it is doing it carelessly. With the cons exceeding the pros and with the lack of infrastructure and country’s incompetency to handle such massive database, the Aadhar remains a debacle and perhaps that is why the centre keeps extending the deadline for the linking, now extended indefinitely. Perhaps, I can continue ignoring the messages on my phone for a little while longer.

But does everyone in the country have the same privilege?

Probably not.

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