In which our columnist stretches the idea of UID to its extreme and checks if it still retains its texture
Suresh Menon | May 6, 2011
The message on my phone was clear and unambiguous, almost poetic although clarity is not necessarily a must-have for poetry. “The government of India is providing every resident of India a free unique identification number – Aadhaar. Please call (and there was a telephone number here) for enrolment details in your area.” Two things struck me immediately. The use of the word ‘free’, for one. Clearly there is something about freebies that our government hopes will attract the punters in huge numbers.
The second thought that came unbidden was: what is the going rate for favourite numbers? Can you bribe someone (or pay a premium, as I believe the technical expression is) to give you a number that adds up to your lucky number 9 or your luckier number 6 like you can with the registration numbers of your vehicles? Do they hold out a choice of numbers you can pick from? Like mobile phone numbers, will there be easy convertibility? In other words, can I have the same number on my passport, ration card, laundry receipt and subscription number to this magazine?
A third thought (and this occurred to me just now): who has been handing out telephone numbers so freely? Maybe it wasn’t so freely and some agency or the other had to pay for it.
And since I have one of those idly speculative minds that is never happier than when stretching any proposition to its extreme and checking if it still retains its texture, it quickly moved on from the unique ID number to IDs in general (although the government is not about to give us all a general ID number even if it means a rise in the level of employment).
Frankly, the ID cards of the new generation will have to be different. The simplest of these comprise name, date of birth, place of birth – useful for census-takers and those who want to deny benefits to people over (or under) a certain age. Should they fall into the wrong hands (i.e., the hands of people who want to sell you insurance, cosmetics or plots of land over the phone), there is little you can do but scream and bang the phone down or scream and switch off the phone or just scream. Or ask them to call you on Thursday.
Hence the politically correct ID card. Already the Indian government has decided (or at least recommended) that there ought to be no date and place of birth on the card or indeed the place of residence. This is merely the first step.
Soon I suspect there will have to be no names, because it is easy to discriminate against names beginning with the letter ‘S’, for example, or surnames which have the letter ‘R’ as the middle alphabet. The Artiste Formerly, Currently and Possibly in the Future To Be Known as Prince was known for a brief period by a symbol, but it is difficult to see a population of 1.2 billion (or how many of us are here in India) carrying unique symbols. That would require a code book, and would defeat the purpose. No names, therefore.
No gender either, because you know how easily folks are discriminated against on the basis of gender. I mean, should it appear on my card that I am male, then the chances of my being offered a job as a surrogate mother goes out of the window.
The world being divided into those who have ID cards and those who don’t, there will be nothing on your card to indicate whether you possess a card or not.
That is one way to ensure there will be no discrimination based on ID cards. No numbers either, since we do not want to encourage arithmetical discrimination.
No personal information like colour of eyes, favourite rock group, number of teeth, soccer team supported, number of days spent in prison, cars owned, children beaten for not doing homework etc will be available on the cards to prevent profiling based on these criteria. Needless to say, thumbprints, shoe size, height, weight, colour of pancreas are ruled out for the same reason.
Like the British constitution, the ID card will be an unwritten one. In fact, it won’t even be a card, just an idea, because if you want to be politically correct there is nothing you can actually have on it that will identify you.
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