Identity Project

Why poor people in Delhi are desperate to get their babies uniquely identified

Delhi government continues to deny food rations to people without Aadhar cards, even though a Supreme Court order expressly prohibits this.

On the 15th of every month, thousands of slum residents in Sheikh Sarai in Delhi pour out of their tenements and head to the ration shops to pick up their share of subsidised grain. But in recent months, many have been coming back home without their full share.

This isn’t because the supplies in the shop are running thin. Rather, this has to do with the Delhi government’s insistence that people get themselves Aadhar cards, which assign a 12-digit unique identification number to each individual.

Although the Supreme Court in an order in March 2014 ruled that an Aadhar card or number cannot be made mandatory for citizens to avail of any social security service, the state government in Delhi continues to ask for it. Those who do not have Aadhar cards are being denied food rations.

Apart from being a violation of the court order, this has led to a curious trend in the slum at Sheikh Sarai. Families are lining up children, and in some cases, infants, outside Aadhar registration centres. “Even our youngest, five-month old baby has an Aadhar card now,” said Sheela, a matriarch heading a 17-member household of sons, daughter-in-laws and grandchildren.

A temporary fix

Since the Aadhar card is based on biometric data, children younger than five years are technically not ready for the procedure. Their iris and fingerprints aren’t fully formed. They would inevitably need new cards after the age of five.

So why are families desperate to get Aadhar cards for their children?

Until recently, food rations were given collectively to a family. But the National Food Security Act of 2013, popularly known as the Right to Food Act, has replaced family quotas with individual quotas. Under the new law, every member of a family that earns less than Rs 1 lakh a year is entitled to five kilos of rice and wheat a month at Rs 1 or Rs 2 a kilo.

Since Delhi government has linked Aadhar to food rations, it means every member of the family – including the children – need to get unique identification cards before they can qualify for the rations.

Geeta, a housewife from the Sheikh Sarai slum colony, has to feed her four children on the erratic income of her husband, a daily wage labourer who brings in Rs 100 or Rs 150 on a good day. Three of her children were not on the family ration card when the Right to Food Act was passed, so Geeta is unable to get subsidised rations for half the family.

“There is no hope for people like us. They ask us to get an Aadhar card first or get out,” said Geeta, who has been trying to get her three youngest children on the ration card for a year.

Geeta and her family. Photo: Mayank Jain

Geeta’s attempts to procure the mandatory Aadhar number for her children have failed, despite taking them repeatedly to the UID registration office. “We always get registration slips and then nothing happens,” she said. Her children’s applications have been rejected at least four times, and she is not sure why.

Geeta now buys more expensive foodgrains from the neighbourhood grocery store, often by borrowing money from locals at steep interest. “We have nothing left to buy anything else, like stationery for my two children in school,” she said.

An unrevoked order

In September 2013 – and again in March 2014 – the Supreme Court issued two prominent rulings on the use of the Aadhar card. In both orders, the court ruled against making Aadhar mandatory and in March, it reiterated that “no person shall be deprived of any service for want of Aadhar number in case he/she is otherwise eligible/entitled”.

The court also ordered authorities to modify all its forms and circulars that may have listed the Aadhar number as a necessity for availing services.

But four months later, in July 2014, in response to a Right to Information query by activists from the Delhi Rozi Roti Abhiyan, the state government’s department of food and civil supplies provided its guidelines for identifying families eligible for the rations. Sure enough, the guidelines give top priority to Aadhar numbers, which must be on the ration card for each family member. “Non submission of copy of Aadhar...may lead to removal of the family from the list,” the guidelines say.

The revenue department’s insistence on Aadhar stretches back to an order it issued in December 2012, announcing that Aadhar would be used to deliver all services within its jurisdiction. “As far as I am aware, this order has not been revoked, and continues to cause hardship to poor people,” said Reetika Khera, a Delhi-based economist.

Although the Supreme Court orders technically override the Delhi government’s order, the revenue department still seems to be enforcing the need for Aadhar.

Senior officials in the Delhi government were not available for comment. But a lower official in the food and civil supplied office confirmed that the Aadhar number has been linked to the ration card.

Over the past year, activists in Delhi have found that the state government continues to blatantly violate the Supreme Court order, not just in the case of food ration supplies but also for a range of services provided by the state revenue department. Forms for the application of income certificates, Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe certificates and other backward caste certificates – all under the revenue department – claim that an Aadhar number is compulsory for all applicants.

Not just Aadhar

But getting the Aadhar numbers hasn’t ended the troubles of people in the Sheikh Sarai slum.

Sheela was the only person in her family whose name was listed on the family ration card. Still, the family used to get about 35 kilos of grain every month. But after the government moved to individual-based quotas, the family’s supply came down to just 5 kilos of foodgrain a month.

Sheela then painstakingly did the rounds of UID offices to get Aadhar cards for all her grandchildren. But the cards, she says, have proved to be futile.

“They ask us to give UID numbers but when we put it on the form, they want proof of birth,” she said. Very few people in Sheikh Sarai have a formal proof of birth to offer.

Sheela’s daughter-in-law Lakshmi has had similar problems while trying to get a cooking gas connection. “Our gas connection was cancelled by the company because we didn’t have Aadhar cards,” she said. “Now that we do, each authority keeps sending us away.”


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Swara Bhasker: Sharp objects has to be on the radar of every woman who is tired of being “nice”

The actress weighs in on what she loves about the show.

This article has been written by award-winning actor Swara Bhasker.

All women growing up in India, South Asia, or anywhere in the world frankly; will remember in some form or the other that gentle girlhood admonishing, “Nice girls don’t do that.” I kept recalling that gently reasoned reproach as I watched Sharp Objects (you can catch it on Hotstar Premium). Adapted from the author of Gone Girl, Gillian Flynn’s debut novel Sharp Objects has been directed by Jean-Marc Vallée, who has my heart since he gave us Big Little Lies. It stars the multiple-Oscar nominee Amy Adams, who delivers a searing performance as Camille Preaker; and Patricia Clarkson, who is magnetic as the dominating and dark Adora Crellin. As an actress myself, it felt great to watch a show driven by its female performers.

The series is woven around a troubled, alcohol-dependent, self-harming, female journalist Camille (single and in her thirties incidentally) who returns to the small town of her birth and childhood, Wind Gap, Missouri, to report on two similarly gruesome murders of teenage girls. While the series is a murder mystery, it equally delves into the psychology, not just of the principal characters, but also of the town, and thus a culture as a whole.

There is a lot that impresses in Sharp Objects — the manner in which the storytelling gently unwraps a plot that is dark, disturbing and shocking, the stellar and crafty control that Jean-Marc Vallée exercises on his narrative, the cinematography that is fluid and still manages to suggest that something sinister lurks within Wind Gap, the editing which keeps this narrative languid yet sharp and consistently evokes a haunting sensation.

Sharp Objects is also liberating (apart from its positive performance on Bechdel parameters) as content — for female actors and for audiences in giving us female centric and female driven shows that do not bear the burden of providing either role-models or even uplifting messages. 

Instead, it presents a world where women are dangerous and dysfunctional but very real — a world where women are neither pure victims, nor pure aggressors. A world where they occupy the grey areas, complex and contradictory as agents in a power play, in which they control some reigns too.

But to me personally, and perhaps to many young women viewers across the world, what makes Sharp Objects particularly impactful, perhaps almost poignant, is the manner in which it unravels the whole idea, the culture, the entire psychology of that childhood admonishment “Nice girls don’t do that.” Sharp Objects explores the sinister and dark possibilities of what the corollary of that thinking could be.

“Nice girls don’t do that.”

“Who does?”

“Bad girls.”

“So I’m a bad girl.”

“You shouldn’t be a bad girl.”

“Why not?”

“Bad girls get in trouble.”

“What trouble? What happens to bad girls?”

“Bad things.”

“What bad things?”

“Very bad things.”

“How bad?”

“Terrible!!!”

“Like what?”

“Like….”

A point the show makes early on is that both the victims of the introductory brutal murders were not your typically nice girly-girls. Camille, the traumatised protagonist carrying a burden from her past was herself not a nice girl. Amma, her deceptive half-sister manipulates the nice girl act to defy her controlling mother. But perhaps the most incisive critique on the whole ‘Be a nice girl’ culture, in fact the whole ‘nice’ culture — nice folks, nice manners, nice homes, nice towns — comes in the form of Adora’s character and the manner in which beneath the whole veneer of nice, a whole town is complicit in damning secrets and not-so-nice acts. At one point early on in the show, Adora tells her firstborn Camille, with whom she has a strained relationship (to put it mildly), “I just want things to be nice with us but maybe I don’t know how..” Interestingly it is this very notion of ‘nice’ that becomes the most oppressive and deceptive experience of young Camille, and later Amma’s growing years.

This ‘Culture of Nice’ is in fact the pervasive ‘Culture of Silence’ that women all over the world, particularly in India, are all too familiar with. 

It takes different forms, but always towards the same goal — to silence the not-so-nice details of what the experiences; sometimes intimate experiences of women might be. This Culture of Silence is propagated from the child’s earliest experience of being parented by society in general. Amongst the values that girls receive in our early years — apart from those of being obedient, dutiful, respectful, homely — we also receive the twin headed Chimera in the form of shame and guilt.

“Have some shame!”

“Oh for shame!”

“Shameless!”

“Shameful!”

“Ashamed.”

“Do not bring shame upon…”

Different phrases in different languages, but always with the same implication. Shameful things happen to girls who are not nice and that brings ‘shame’ on the family or everyone associated with the girl. And nice folks do not talk about these things. Nice folks go on as if nothing has happened.

It is this culture of silence that women across the world today, are calling out in many different ways. Whether it is the #MeToo movement or a show like Sharp Objects; or on a lighter and happier note, even a film like Veere Di Wedding punctures this culture of silence, quite simply by refusing to be silenced and saying the not-nice things, or depicting the so called ‘unspeakable’ things that could happen to girls. By talking about the unspeakable, you rob it of the power to shame you; you disallow the ‘Culture of Nice’ to erase your experience. You stand up for yourself and you build your own identity.

And this to me is the most liberating aspect of being an actor, and even just a girl at a time when shows like Sharp Objects and Big Little Lies (another great show on Hotstar Premium), and films like Veere Di Wedding and Anaarkali Of Aarah are being made.

The next time I hear someone say, “Nice girls don’t do that!”, I know what I’m going to say — I don’t give a shit about nice. I’m just a girl! And that’s okay!

Swara is a an award winning actor of the Hindi film industry. Her last few films, including Veere Di Wedding, Anaarkali of Aaraah and Nil Battey Sannata have earned her both critical and commercial success. Swara is an occasional writer of articles and opinion pieces. The occasions are frequent :).

Watch the trailer of Sharp Objects here:

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This article was published by the Scroll marketing team with Swara Bhasker on behalf of Hotstar Premium and not by the Scroll editorial team.