Two day Workshop on Digitization of Identity and its Impact on the Migrant
Organized by : Calcutta Research Group in collaboration with the CSCS, Bangalore, on 29-30 June, 2012
1. In an official site dedicated exclusively to the subject, the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) defines the contours of the Unique Identification (UID) project or ‘Aadhaar’, to use the official brand name: “The UIDAI’s mandate is to issue every resident a unique identification number linked to the resident’s demographic and biometric information, which they can use to identify themselves anywhere in India, and to access a host of benefits and services.” The tone of the governmental expatiation on the subject is in the language of welfare. It speaks in terms of the benefits and advantages that would accrue to the people once they enrol themselves.
2. This description stokes three broad causes of anxiety. First, the citizen or ‘resident’, to use the official site’s stated category, may fear an erosion of the right to privacy, and resist what he or she may believe to be intrusive surveillance. This aspect has been detailed by perceptive observers. Second, people may find the Aadhaar project disabling, in that it tries to reduce plural identities to a statist mono-dimensionality. Third, the tax-paying homo oeconomicus may find the cost such a project would necessarily entail forbidding. Besides these three misgivings, there is also the anxiety, namely, that in order for the project to expeditiously draw the entire nation into its net it would require tremendous governmental will and bureaucratic alacrity, which, even the most conformist member of the citizenry would concede, is a dubious proposition, given India’s underwhelming track record, and hence the project may become in future one more in the long line of India’s half or poorly finished, or bungled and aborted, projects.
3. But, this is only one half of the problem that the UID project engenders; for beyond the ambit of citizenship, lurks the figure of the non-citizen, who is often the alien or the migrant, or the victim condemned for AIDS (similar to the leper in the past ages), or the person once suspected of terrorism and thus condemned forever. The UID debate therefore needs to consider the possible impact it would have on non-citizen residents. They make up, though a minority in terms of numbers, a significant cross-section of the resident population in India and find themselves in a society and polity that displays unique features in terms of how it regulates the presence and exit of foreigners in its territory, which is often configured and visualized in terms of circles. Thus one may be a migrant in one part of the territory, in another part not. One may be allowed to visit or settle in one area, in another not. Further, the incoherence of the legal and administrative mechanism regulating asylum seekers, refugees, and stateless persons in India has the potential to translate the lack of, or precarious, legal identities in social life of these individuals in ways that may negatively impact them.
4. At the same time, it would be worth thinking aloud whether, on the contrary, the UID project would benefit migrants — labouring and non-labouring — in the Indian context given that their limited rights are not translated in reality into the existing social, economic, and political institutional set up. Questions of identity, surveillance, protection rights, and humanitarian considerations with regard to refugees/ stateless /asylum seekers are all the more relevant given the anxieties displayed by the Indian state in relation to them. It is in this specific context of resident non-citizens that this proposal for a workshop intends to comprehend the complexities of this project. The proposal also has in mind the fact that internal migrants may also suffer from some of the disabilities from which the immigrant or the resident non-citizen may suffer.
5. The UID of course claims that welfare considerations are uppermost in the government’s mind in this project, as it says, “A crucial factor that determines an individual’s well-being in a country is whether their identity is recognized in the eyes of the government. Weak identity limits the power of the country’s residents when it comes to claiming basic political and economic rights. The lack of identity is especially detrimental for the poor and the underprivileged, the people who live in India’s ‘social, political and economic periphery’. Agencies in both the public and private sector in India usually require a clear proof of identity to provide services. Since the poor often lack such documentation, they face enormous barriers in accessing benefits and subsidies”. Yet, it has been argued that even though the measure is silent and denies either profiling or centralizing information, “convergence is a predictable and inevitable consequence of the UID project”. The convergence of UID with other initiatives such as the National Intelligence Grid (Natgrid) makes it clear beyond doubt that surveillance is one of the key objectives of the project.
6. As we have already noted, refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, and other immigrants form a broad category of residents with fluid identity in India. A large majority of them share some form of ties with India – historical, religious, ethnic, linguistic. The legal basis for their stay is varied. For instance, Nepali nationals are allowed to live, own property and carry out economic activities under the Indo-Nepal Treaty of Peace and Friendship, 1950. Refugees and asylum seekers usually have some form of identification and are considered to live legally in India. This category includes nationals from the African continent (Somalis, Sudanese, Congolese, Ethiopians), those from within the South Asian region, including the Burmese, Sri Lankan Tamils and Sinhalese, Bangladeshis, Pakistanis, Afghans, and Tibetans and lastly others from outside of South Asia including the Palestinians, Iranians, and Iraqis. It is impossible to say with accuracy, at least in case of those who share common ties with those of the North East India for instance, whether they are foreigners or part of Assam, Manipur, Mizoram or Arunachal. Some others such as the stateless (for instance the Nepalis of Bhutanese origin who are unable to go back to Bhutan and are not recognized in India) and the refugees who do not submit a claim for protection to UNHCR in New Delhi are “illegal foreigners” and if detected, are subject to deportation. Most, if not all, immigrants falling within this category share some similarities with the local host population, as in case of Bangladeshis, the Burmese, Nepalis, Sri Lankan Tamils and Pakistanis. Immigration and immigration management is complex because under the broad framework of the Constitution and the laws applying to foreigners and citizens is a combination of mostly ad-hoc administrative policies, agreements and practices that reflect the nature of migration, the nationality of immigrants, India’s foreign policy and the political relations between the two countries. While immigration control policy in such background has already assumed gigantic proportions, the issue is: What bearing will this project of UID have on the practices of care given that even factors such as geographic location or national identity of refugees/ asylum seekers/ stateless persons also assumes an important role and determines the response of various administrative bodies (for instance, recognized Somali refugees living in Delhi and those living in Hyderabad get treated differently, or Tibetans and the Chins are differently treated)? Even the supervisory and monitoring agencies are varied.
7. To discuss the issue of identity and identification, we need of course a historical perspective. To be sure, technologies of surveillance are not novel to the modern state, in particular a neoliberal state. Methods of imposing state-sponsored identity on individuals by way of documentation, or even by the direct inscription of such identity on bodies, thereby making them legible to the statist optic, are legion. And this is not by any means new or futuristic, as the standard Hollywood sci-fi fare, dishing out techno-babble, uchronia and insertion of microchips into the brainstem, would have us believe. It could be the chehra and dagh system — keeping detailed description of each soldier and each horse — of Alauddin Khalji, which, once introduced, became the standard procedure of military administration for all the Sultans and the Mughals later; it could also be the colonial methods of identifying, cataloguing and monitoring criminal tribes, sometimes through the use of the notorious penal tattoo or godna, also through the development and deployment of “scientific means for the detection of the habitual criminal, and specialized police departments for record and identification.” From the 1890s, such ‘scientific means’ included anthropometric record as well as fingerprint identification. Apart from these, for the people in general there were always the standard colonial tool of demographic surveillance (the census) and geographic definition (cartography).
8. To understand what is ‘new’ about the neoliberal political motivation driving the UID project, or to flag the difference between the pre/colonial and postcolonial regimes of supervisory documentation, one needs to look at the issue from two perspectives. First, viewed as a matter of extent and intensity, it has to be admitted that the earlier regimes came nowhere close to the present postcolonial state in terms of penetration and coverage insofar as surveying its population is concerned. The transition from the colonial to the postcolonial nation-state, in fact, witnessed a hardening of supervisory will and the decades thereafter have seen the snowballing of state-sponsored monitoring. This has been aided above all by digital technology — the preponderance of electronic identity markers, be it the passport, the Electoral Photo Identity Card (Epic), Permanent Account Number (PAN), or now, the incipient UID. Second, while emphasizing the comparatively limited character of the colonial state, one must not make the mistake of assuming that it was in any way weak; it could administer relatively arbitrarily because it did not have to seek legitimacy from the people it sought to govern. The modern nation-state, of course, is answerable to the electorate and to the somewhat fickle public opinion, which has become undeniably more aware and informed due to the explosive growth of the media, print and audiovisual. This is somewhat paradoxical, since the very technology which allows the neoliberal state more penetration and coverage also imposes a check on statist arbitrariness by keeping the ‘public’ at large posted. However, the point to make here is that, given the exposure and accountability, the nation-state cannot simply talk in terms of security and foist intrusive surveillance on the people. It has to window-dress its agenda of securitization with the rhetoric of welfare. Or, to put it somewhat differently, the state professed commitment to ensure provisions of security of life and welfare leads inexorably to the securitization of the state and the polity. In the case of UID, too, the central government has resorted to such combination of argument (or, rhetoric if you like) of welfare and hard security thinking. The state wants to give an impression that welfarist objectives animate the project; however given the scale, costs and what it seeks to achieve in reality, it would be naïve to assume that such a system would leave non-citizens and migrants untouched, especially in the context of the high degree of anxiety over issues of both internal and external national insecurity.
9. Such technologies of surveillance — and the regime of digitized identities produced through these technologies — will inevitably force doctrinaire simplification of groups and individuals, totally at a remove from the real-life palimpsest-like textures of group and individual identities. This is likely to be most acutely felt by marginal and migrant groups, owing to their already-endemic precariousness. This has historically not seemed to bother the powers that be, insofar as supervisory technologies successfully render more visible the population at large and enable its harnessing to the logic of accumulation — be it colonial capital or finance capital of various types.
10. But, this is merely what the state-capital-security complex (somewhat like what John Kenneth Galbraith termed as, “military-industrial complex”) wills. While it is true that such a regime of digitized identities aims at mapping and monitoring individuals totally, it is also true that the grand plan of state-sponsored surveillance is often resisted on the ground by individual actors who resist the logic of docile production and work out innovative techniques of self-making and survival. The conflictive, yet the mutually constitutive relation between on one hand statist technologies of control cum surveillance, and on the other hand the subjective techniques of self-making and survival, finds an experientially rich and politically-economically dynamic manifestation in the liminal figure of the migrant, always-already marginal yet at the core of the statist anxiety about the ungovernable ‘foreigner’.
11. All these issues need to be debated with regard to the welfarist claims of not only the UID for migrant population groups within the country but also for many such identificatory initiatives taken and operationalized by the states over time. Instances of discrimination are galore: A Bihari worker is shot dead in Mumbai. A Tamil worker is harassed in Karnataka. A Muslim Bengalee worker in the diamond-polishing industry is hounded out of Mumbai. Or, a Bihari farm worker is killed in Jammu and Kashmir, or Punjab, or a brick kiln worker from Eastern Uttar Pradesh is shot dead in Manipur or Assam. In many places migrant workers are discriminated in regard to local rights or social security considerations. How will a unique number or other state-sponsored schemes help migrant labour groups, existing as they are in a state of nearly complete disenfranchisement?
12. In the light of the observations made above, the proposed two-day workshop will move along four distinct, but intertwined, trajectories:
· The workshop will look at the historical experiences of surveillance and how they have intensified over time. The role played by the introduction of digital technology in the late twentieth century will be traced.
· Narrowing the field of inquiry, the workshop will, at another level, look at the UID project and the governmental aims underlining it. How dependable is the welfarist tenor of the state? What are the security concerns that under gird such tenor? Is security the only real issue and welfare is but empty shibboleth? Or is it possible, after all and from the migrants’ point of view, to secure some amount of social security (as distinct from welfarist hyperbole) for the migrant through digitization of his/her identity?
· At a third level, the link between the UID project, migrant groups and their experiences of the project will be established through ethnographic reports. The possible impact of the project on migrants — labouring and non-labouring — will be assessed, not only in terms of what the state extracts or inflicts upon them but also by way of understanding how these people negotiate with, strategize against, submit to, and overwhelm the UID design.
· Finally, and through all these, the workshop will try to understand what it means to delineate the identity of a migrant in the framework of a state that runs on fixed notions of population, territory, loyalty, citizenship, etc., while the migrant represents a situation of transit in the process of accumulation of capital.
13. As the mechanism and institutional structures to implement the UID Project have been put in place recently and only few reports evaluating the pilot projects are available, this workshop would arguably run the risk of speculation vis-à-vis the impact it would have on “foreigners”. This workshop will seek to address this lacuna by juxtaposing historical lessons, analysis of stated political and governance imperatives, and ethnographic reports. Also it will be crucial to take note of local reports on various kinds of responses relating to documenting the migrants under the UID scheme.
14. Under the rubric of the UID project, other state-sponsored identificatory measures and the assessment of their impact on migrants in India, this workshop will aim at identifying the process whereby the language of welfare is inserted by states in their securitization plans, how digitization and surveillance have intertwined to etch new lineaments of a penetrative supervisory regime, and how this intertwining affects, distorts and morphs the way marginal individuals — the migrants, in this case — view themselves and their location in the polity and, how these men and women, faced with the ever-renewing series of dispossession, work out their own strategies of survival.
Planning Commission, Government of India http://uidai.gov.in/index.php/aadhaar.html
[Accessed on April 09, 2012]
See for instance Usha Ramanathan, “A Unique Identity Bill”,
Economic and Political Weekly, vol. XLV, no. 30, July 24, 2010,
pp. 10-14, Taha Mehmood, “The Fuzzy Logic of National Frontiers or a
Frontier Nation: Reflections on the Multi-Purpose National Identity
Card Scheme in India” in Sarai Reader07 Frontiers, New Delhi:
Impress, 2007, pp. 144-158.
Annexure 1- Registration Form
Annexure 2- Programme Schedule
Report on the Report Release From Responsibility to Response: Assessing
National Approaches to Internal Displacement by
Elizabeth Ferris, Erin
Mooney and Chareen Stark
Organized by : Calcutta Research Group
The Calcutta Research Group organized a report release programme of From Responsibility to Response: Assessing National Approaches to Internal Displacement by Elizabeth Ferris, Erin Mooney and Chareen Stark. The event was organized at Academy of Fine Arts, Kolkata on 5 April 2012. The report was released by Walter Fernandes, Director, North Eastern Social Research Centre, Guwahati. The Programme was followed by a panel discussion on The National Approaches of Countries of South Asia on Internal Displacement. The panelists are Ameena Mohsin, Department of International Relations, Dhaka University, Bangladesh; Subodh Raj Pyakurel, Chairperson, INSEC, Nepal; I.A.Rehman, Director, Human Rights Commission of Pakistan; Jeevan Thyagaraja, Director, Consortium of Humanitarian Agencies, Sri Lanka; and Paula Banerjee, CRG and Department of South and Southeast Asian Studies, University of Calcutta.
Report on the book launch of Does the Elephant Dance?: Contemporary
Indian Foreign Policy by David M Malone
Organized by : Calcutta Research Group in collaboration with the International Development Research Centre (IDRC) and Oxford University Press
The Calcutta Research Group in collaboration with the International Development Research Centre (IDRC) and Oxford University Press organized the book launch of Does the Elephant Dance?: Contemporary Indian Foreign Policy by David M Malone. The event was organized at The Oberoi Grand on May 11, 2011. The book was released by His Excellency M K Narayanan, Honorable Governor of West Bengal.
The Workshop on Women and Peace: Moving towards UNSCR (1325) and
National Action Plan (India)
dated 13-14 March 2011
Organized by : Sansristi and PIPFPD (Odhisa)A workshop held in Bhubaneswar on women and peace which focused on the United Nation Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) and National Action plan (India).on March 13th & 14th 2011 .It was organized by Sansristi and PIPFPD (Odhisa Chapter).
The Workshop on Media and Forced Migration Gangtok, Sikkim
dated 21-23 January 2011
Eviction from one’s homeland occurs because of various causes, including conflict, natural or manmade disasters and the so-called development drives. As a result, people are forced to migrate and relocate often amid poor living conditions, uncertainty and insecurity. This problem is encountered in many parts of the world, and the North-east is one of the hotspots today. However, it often does not get due coverage in the media, and many journalists feel that the resources, tools and skills to cover this issue at their disposal is inadequate. The Gangtok media workshop sought to address this issue. Its purpose was to discuss and prepare a toolkit and reader for media persons in the North-east on forced migration.
The Mahanirban Calcutta Research Group (CRG) every year in Kolkatta organises the Annual Winter Course on Forced Migration –A Program on Protection of Refugees, the Internally Displaced and other victims of Forced Migration”. The Winter Course is a product of CRG’s research, dialogues, and advocacy work on autonomy, human rights, issues of forced displacement and migration, forced migration, peace and conflict resolution, citizenship, borders and border-conflicts, and other issues originating from the conflicts around what may be called the “sacred geographies” of the nation-states in South Asia .
This year (2010), the CRG is organizing a similar workshop in Nepal from 21 to 23 November. The workshop is intended for academics, refugee rights activists and others working in the field of human rights and humanitarian assistance for victims of forced displacement. The workshop will deal with issues relating to refugee flows in South Asia with special reference to Nepal, violence, conflicts, and forced migration, national and international regime of protection, regional trends in forced migration, internal displacement, gendered nature of forced migration and protection framework, and environmental displacement.
The workshop will emphasise the experiences of displacement and refugee life, camp experiences, critical legal and policy analysis, and analysis of relevant notions such as vulnerability, care, risk, protection, return and re-settlement.
Two day Workshop On State of Research on Forced Migration in the East and Northeast Jointly organized by Indian Institute of Advanced Study (IIAS), Shimla, Panos South Asia and Mahanirban Calcutta Research Group (CRG) || Date: 12-13 February, 2010 || Venue: Hotel Pragoti Manor, Guwahati
The two day research workshop on “State of Research on Forced Migration in the East and Northeast jointly organized by Indian Institute of Advanced Study (IIAS), Shimla, Panos South Asia and Mahanirban Calcutta Research Group (CRG) in Hotel Pragoti Manor, Guwahati from 12-13 February 2010 explored the possibilities for newer research agendas through a stock taking exercise of ongoing and previous research on resource politics, conflict, militarization and disasters that led to forced migration and displacement in India’s east and north east. The workshop was attended by scholars from various academic institutions in east and north east India; activists; and media persons.
The history of forced migration has presently been recognized as a history of mixed and massive flows of people, which have rendered, to a considerable extent, the older forms of protection inadequate. These early signs of new kinds of flows on the map of forced migration have led governments and humanitarian agencies to adopt newer strategies to cope with massive displacements and unrest. In this context - of massive and mixed flows of forced migration and the need for newer strategies to handle such migrations - Mahanirban Calcutta Research Group (CRG) proposed to UNHCR to hold a dialogue that would focus on the relevant experiences of South Asia. The UNHCR graciously accepted this proposal in the spirit of collegiality and the idea emerged that the Sixth Annual Winter Course on Forced Migration could have a special segment on protection strategies in the wake of the emerging situation of forced migration in form of mixed and massive flows, where experts from all over South Asia along with key UNHCR personnel, engaged with the South Asian situation, could participate and deliberate on possibilities of new protection strategies.
Seminar on ‘State Formation, Citizenship and Gender’
Calcutta Research Group in collaboration with Indian Council of Social Science Research (Eastern Regional Centre) and University of Calcutta organized two day Indo-French Seminar on State Formation, Citizenship, and Gender. The details concept note, schedule and report are attached.
Subir Bhaumik, member
of CRG, attended the ‘Responsibility to Protect’ (R2P) Conference at
Bangkok, 20-21 February 2008. Subir Bhaumik presented his views on behalf of
CRG, the details of which are given below:
Workshop on the IDPs in India's Northeast 24-26,
Conference on Conflicts, Law and Constitutionalism
Jointly organised by Maison Des Sciences De L 'Homme & CRG, Paris
(16-18 February, 2005)
Annexure 1 –
Civil Society Dialogues
1. Till date three (3) dialogues have been held on specific issues of peace and human rights in the east and the Northeast. These have drawn on the themes of culture of peace, reconciliation, justice, and democracy: These dialogues have produced a functioning network of cooperation on various peace activities. Northeast is the theatre of the longest state versus community conflict in South Asia and as such occupies a singular position in Indian politics. Different ethnic groups living in this region have been for years pressing either for independence, or separate statehood on the basis of political and linguistic-cultural identities or for special constitutional safeguards of their respective existences. But what is forgotten often is that while these conflicts have created frontiers and boundaries dividing and re-dividing territory, peoples, and communities, they are not the only feature of the situation. Surviving connections, relations, friendships, and continuing dialogues on the basis of fairness, accommodation, and mutual recognition of claims also mark such a situation. It seems that dialogues and efforts at accommodations and understandings have complimented war, conflicts, and threatened peace. It is with that realization that the dialogue programme was planned. It aims to institute conversations of peace and human rights activists, gender sensitive artists, novelists, painters, litterateurs, students, and youth from the region of Northeast and East.
2. The first dialogue (2001) held in Calcutta engaged with the inquiry: how are we to connect the issue of democracy with peace in a conflict-ridden region and a war-ravaged situation? While it is important to link human rights and peace, in what way can this link be deepened and made specific with ideas of justice, in particular gender justice, cultural democracy, decentralization, and a dialogic culture? It is from such an inquiry and the related realisation, that the first civil society dialogue on human rights and peace in the east and northeast was held. The participants were human rights and peace activists from diverse parts of the east and the Northeast. Its report has been published.
second dialogue (2002) held in
Shantiniketan carried forward the inquiry by bringing in notions of
cultural democracy and justice, in particular gender justice. The
dialogue probed the assertions of identity, abuse of human rights,
and increasing violence against women in the entire region. From
rape as a symbol of conquered terrain to identifying women as
reproducers of identities, gender appears to be a key dimension in
many of these conflicts and it is clear that belligerents including
the state take gender seriously. Yet, as the dialogue found,
male-centric analysis of identity conflict still tries to disregard
the category of gender. These events prompted extensive
conversations among human rights activists, grassroots women
activists for democracy, and scholars on relevant issues. The report
third dialogue (2003) held in
Shillong took up the issue of autonomy, and deliberated on the
question of whether autonomy in the northeast and in the Darjeeling
area of West Bengal has advanced democracy or has been mainly tool
of governing. It also discussed the issue of autonomy within – that
is, how much women or minorities within an autonomous area enjoy
autonomy and enjoy the fruits of self-government? Various cases were
discussed; the international law on minorities and on autonomy was
discussed; international experiences were deliberated upon. The
report will come out soon.