Uploaded on May 05, 2017
Dr Mohammad Manzoor Alam
Injurious to vulnerable groups
Taking note of Unique Identity Project’s limitations the Supreme Court of India first observed that Aadhaar card should not be mandatory. Over a period of time it seems to have come to the conclusion that Aadhaar should not be mandatory for benefits and entitlements. Hearings are scheduled for weeks ahead, which should ultimately clarify the picture. However, till then the Supreme Court’s orders notwithstanding the Centre and states are doing as they wish.
Whether the right to privacy is a fundamental right is yet to be decided. Meanwhile the Centre has told the Supreme Court that Indians have no fundamental right to privacy. It is important to know whether Indians have any right to privacy at all, if not a fundamental right.
It is important to note that in terms of gender and caste there are many groups and individuals who do not want their identity disclosed. For instance, no sex worker wants her profession described as prostitute, streetwalker, call girl, or hooker. None would like to be identified as a sex worker either which, in any case, is a more humane and value-neutral description. This class would rather not want its identity made public at all as it can draw opprobrium, even physical attack.
Likewise, people whose sexual orientation and preferences are not of the conventional kind also would prefer their identity not to be disclosed. Lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transvestites would be happier in their own small communities rather than be the subject of ridicule, boycott, or physical violence by the huge majority of the heterosexual world.
Persons afflicted with AIDS (whose population in India runs in millions) would not want their identity made public. The huge database that the Unique Identity Project generates will be further seeded with an equally huge volume of data during hundreds of transactions (like medical consultations, bank operations, home purchases, tax returns, travels, shopping and use of PAN cards) that will automatically blow the cover on identities. And we have not even begun to count the ways in which citizens’ privacy will be destroyed.
Misuse by state possible
This project strikes fear deep in the heart of civil libertarians who worry about the “servants” (government) trying to enslave the “masters” (the people) in the words of the British home secretary referred to in the last article of the series. He also described the British loathing for “intrusive bullying” of the citizenry by the state.
There is always a possibility of misuse of such intrusive data by the state. In the past the Gujarat government has tried to collect data on Muslims. In Gujarat 2002, rioters used detailed printouts of addresses of Muslim homes and businesses to attack them. Sitaram Yachury has pointed out how Nazis had marked Jewish homes in Germany to attack them. Such information has dangerous potential, particularly if the state has fascist proclivities.
Caste as a liability
Caste is a heavy cross that Dalits have been carrying on their shoulders for millennia. It is not without reason that BR Ambedkar demanded and worked life-long for what he called the “annihilation of caste.” He even wrote an eponymous book that is one of the best texts for students and scholars of the subjects.
That is why Ambedkarite activists like Ram Puniyani resent the Sangh’s current campaign of Jatiya Samrasta (caste integration) as it seeks not to annihilate caste as Ambedkar demanded, but to preserve the caste system and integrate Hindu castes in the traditional social order, without seeing to be doing so. This, according to activists like Puniyani, is no more than mere deployment of Dalits against Muslims and Christians as well as to corner their vote for BJP. This is why Dalit activists oppose any tampering with their identity.
Although Dalits are the beneficiaries of special quota in jobs and promotions, many of them do not want their identity publicly disclosed without clear justification. Bezwada Wilson, national president of Safai Karmchari Andolan has warned that if caste identifies are disclosed the powerful groups will try to keep the educated children of Safai Karmcharis confined to their socially assigned position of scavenges and manhole cleaners.
Wilson has given his own example as proof of what could happen to the Dalits of this caste. After finishing his high school, when he applied for a regular job for a high school graduate, the government employment exchange sent his case to the Safai Karmchari Department after learning of his caste. Wilson never wanted to be a Safai Karmchari, and most activists of his type do not want the children of Safai Karmcharis to join their forefathers’ job which was assigned to them because of their caste. Thousands like Wilson oppose the branding of people as scavengers and manhole cleaners, a curse that unique identity will perpetuate. g