The 12-digit unique identification (UID) number called Aadhaar issued by Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) neither replaces any of the existing identity cards nor is it a cognizance of citizenship. The Supreme Court of India had reiterated in several of its rulings on various matters that, nobody should be inconvenienced or troubled for the lack of Aadhaar while availing their rights and services. In the initial years of implementation of the scheme, UIDAI officials would often do door-to-door enrolment of the residents of this vast country, apart from the Aadhaar Kendras enrolments that were operating out of banks, court premises and police stations. For a little over a decade old migrant in Delhi like me, nobody visited my hostels or rented houses for enrolment and nothing from state’s narrative and propoganda convinced me to enrol myself for Aadhaar.
On a hot June Thursday evening of 2017, me and my friend suddenly realised that very soon our mobile phones connections might be shut down. TRAI (Telecom Regulatory Authority of India) had issued new guidelines for all mobile phone users to connect their Aadhaar ID with the respective telecom service providers. We did spend the first few minutes expressing our disgust with the state for coercing us into its bureaucratic trails time and again. But the disgust and disdain wasn’t just about state’s coercion but also about how there was least resistance against these recurring arbitrary rules execution methodologies. To our own surprise, most of our fellow comrades who were the tallest voices in the battle against increasing biopolitical governance, also turned out to be the punctual citizens of the nation who had sorted out their identities on time. Perhaps, Foucault’s treatise on ‘techniques of the self’ has finally impressed upon all of us. But nevermind, our dejected and competitively lazy souls firmly pledged that evening that we shall dedicate ourselves very soon to register our unique identification proof with the state.
In the subsequent sweltering Monday afternoon waking up to the looming threat of a discontinued mobile phone service, I finally decided to make a trip to the nearest Aadhaar card registration office. After much research and recommendation, we reached an otherwise non-descript commercial-cum-residential building basement, which was now flagged by several yellow flex banners. The yellow flex banner at the entrance of this Aadhaar registration office reads the versatile registration services it provided. Apart from offering the cardinal ID registration service (read Aadhaar), this legal firm also offered the rather curiously rhyming registration services of TIN, TAN and PAN cards. A little rhyme in taxation perhaps never harmed anyone.
Though bemused, we hurriedly walked down to the basement to enter a tiny room. The wall facing the door was adorned with two Bar council certificates and a tilted wall clock featuring a tiny lotus along with the smug smiles of PM Narendra Modi and Ramesh Bidhuri (BJP MP from South Delhi District) and Vikram Bidhuri. The right hand wall of the office was adored with the ‘new’ Aadhaar smart cards. The Aadhaar smart cards are white plastic cards that have a coloured print out of the Aadhaar card details that look very similar to our PAN (Permanent Account Number) cards. In the next second, an absolutely no-nonsense woman enquired from my friend, which card we were looking for, what documents we had on us and then immediately thrusted out a form to be filled. While I began filling out the form, I realised the lady was simultaneously copying the same details (sought in the form) from my passport to the online Aadhaar registration portal. On enquiring the necessity of the paper form, the lady instantly reminded me of the ‘necessity’ of paper work in Indian bureaucracy despite Digital India aspirations.
On finishing the form, I was asked to sit on a tiny wooden stool next to the lady. Without checking anything written on the form, she asked me to check my details on the online form. I certainly felt as taken-for-granted on being asked to check for corrections in the online form as well as asked to fill out the same form in paper. But never mind, it turned out that the Hindi column in the online form could only accept transliteration of those words which were part of its drop-down menu. So, my house- ‘Dibang Residency’ could only be transliterated as ‘Dabang Residence’ in hindi section of the address bar. After a swallowing deep breath imagining my parents reaction to this transliteration, I moved to the next poor computer programming issue. To my utter disbelief for all the tall Nilekani claims of UIDAI’s ‘state of art’ technological services, the online form could only register the location of the area or locality of one’s residence on the basis of the pin code but not the city or town per se. After much acrobatics, we managed to insert the name of my hometown right next to my house number. Next, I was immediately summoned to sit down with my back straight. The lady pulled out a barcode reader looking equipment and placed approximately 10 inch away from my nose. I could now see with my left eye that the computer was scanning my face through the camera. The job of the dealing assistant was to get a full frame picture of my face while multitasking with the camera and keyboard. She was holding the joy stick camera with her left hand close to my nose without looking at me and clicking the keyboard for scanning commands with her right hand. She kept sternly reiterating to look straight.
‘Photo will not be proper, look straight..
Go back slightly..now come closer..slightly back again..
The system had finally registered a contourless dark photo in a well lit room with my frizzy hair and grumpy face. Next came the iris scanner. It was a binoculars looking device, except that on placing your eyes close to the lens, you get to see your own eyes in a mirror. Iris scans were the quickest of all the scans.
Finally, came the turn of fingerprints and I was first asked to place my left hand fingers albeit the thumb. The thumbs get scanned separately. The flimsy green lit scanner, scanned my fingers after the fourth attempt and a powerful double hand pressing by the office assistant herself on my fingers. But turned out that the right hand was more resilient than the left. After the four unsuccessful attempt and several pressing attempts, the lady pulls a random dusting cloth that also doubled up as the scanner cover to vigorously wipe my fingers. On apologetically asking what could the reason for the scanning inconvenience, she irritatedly replied, ‘you have such a soft skin, the system refuses to accept it’. Before I could soak in the flattery and blush over the unintentional compliment that I just received, my fingers were again placed on the scanner and were pressed with the powerful force of assistant’s both hands. By now, it was clear on the computer screen that it was my Middle Finger that was refusing to be scanned. The ‘soft skin’ of my middle finger was muzzling the fine lines of the finger print on screen. The muzzled middle finger print lines were now encircled in a red square and after the sixth attempt and much energy expenditure of the dealing assistant, the system finally marked my right hand middle finger as ‘Poor Quality Finger or Missing’. The tired and resigned dealing assistant finally clicked on the ‘Save’ tab and declared, ’Its okay, you have nine fingers now’. She saved my entire data on the desktop folder with my name in bold letters along with hundreds of other individual’s records.
The bemused me trying hard not to join my friend in his frantic burst of giggling, sheepishly asked the lady if the existence of my tenth finger in reality and its absence in state’s database will ever cause bureaucratic problems in future? She looked straight into my eyes and said, ‘I have no idea what will happen to the data but if you pay Rs 100 more, you can get a Aadhaar smart card in 10 days in addition to the mail’. Registering my own fate and acknowledging the diverse temperament of my own fingers I quietly signed on the form, paid Rs.300 and received my acknowledgment slip. This registration center was also an environmentally consciousness institute, my acknowledgement slip was printed on a re-used paper which contained complete address, phone number, photograph and biometric details of a fellow nine year old citizen. Whoever thought of data security and confidentiality clearly underestimated environmentalism potentialities!
The middle finger that the state’s system didn’t register due to soft skin was now declared improper/missing in print!