A Crisis of Identity

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Recently, a piece of paper bearing the seal of the government of India arrived at my house. It tersely instructed us to be present on a given location on a given date and time. At first I thought I was being suspected of having links with Maoists/Pornographers because of all my subversive activities ( three attempted satire articles about two national lunatics on a blog that nobody reads anyway. ). Turned out there was nothing so sinister about the summons after all.   The Unique Identification Authority of India, apparently, wanted to collect our biometric information so that they can eventually give us our new unique national IDs, or Aadhar cards as they are strangely called.

For starters, I am not sure why exactly this card is being issued. The idea, I’m told, is that this will be our one-stop identity proof from now on. Now that’s undoubtedly a noble and brilliant idea. However, I have heard this before, and I already carry a voter card and a PAN (permanent account number) card and a passport, all of which were supposed to serve the same purpose. Anyway, if the Government finally decides to spend some money on useful things such as shiny plastic cards for its citizens rather than overpriced choppers for VVIPs or obsolete Russian Aircraft Carriers for the Navy, I sure don’t mind. Bring it on, I’ll squeeze it in between that ATM card of a long-closed bank account and that membership card of the office-gym in the company I resigned from a year ago.

The second beef I have with the Aadhar card is the rather stupid name. For my overseas readers, “Aadhar” means “container.” I suppose the idea is that it will “contain” all our details, hence the name. Seriously, dude, whoever came up with that abortion manual deserves to be strangled, revived and then shot, ie, up the backside. I mean, do you realise that by that logic we humans can call ourselves “shit” and Pappu can call himself “brain”?

Okay, okay, I said I won’t complain. Anyway, on the given date we dutifully turned up at the given venue. To be honest, it was well organised, though stifling hot. The officials had set up quite a few desks with the necessary equipment and were efficiently directing people to their designated stations. The obligatory queues were there, but nobody complained. When you live in country of one billion, you kinda learn to live with it.

Sadly, the equipment had not quite learned to live with it in time. Every single operation took five repetitions and quite a few swear-words from everyone present to be completed. As for the overall data collection process, I had the sneaking suspicion that if I am ever jailed for some offense, the introductory procedures will be somewhat similar.

For starters, I was made to sit still in a rather rickety chair, an impossibly dirty white bed-sheet hanging behind me serving as the backdrop. The person sitting on the table then thrust a paper-wrapped white light almost up my nostrils and took a mug shot on a webcam. That being done, I was made to put all my fingers in a confusing order and pattern on a glass-topped box. This, I gathered, was the fingerprint scanner, and the obstinate mother stubbornly refused to accept my prints each time until I put almost enough pressure to crack the glass.

The obstinate mother

The obstinate mother

Finally, the guy there thrust a weird binocular like contraption at my eyes and asked me to keep them wide open. This, to the general amusement of onlookers, presented an impossibly large and bloated image of my eyeballs on the computer screen. After a few failed attempts indicated by obnoxious beeps and chimes from the machine, I was through.

Like I said

Like I said

The government now had my photo, fingerprints and retina scans. It would keep them in some huge database, encode them and put them in a chip in a plastic card that I will be required to submit to get everything from bank accounts to cooking gas. No matter if I run a traffic signal in Kerala or murder somebody in Bengal, it will put up a flag on somebody’s computer, add another bullet point to a list or automatically open a new file. I could not eat, earn, travel, marry or even die without the state knowing about it.

As I started walking home, I noticed the date on my watch and smiled at the irony. It was the 12th of August. 3 days to our 67th Independence Day.

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