Identity Project

An official Andhra survey shows why Modi government should stop pushing Aadhaar so doggedly

An audit of ration shops after the introduction of Aadhaar revealed that many genuine beneficiaries couldn’t collect food grain due to system glitches.

The Modi government’s insistence on the use of Aadhaar, India’s biometrics-based unique identification project, to weed out “ghosts, fakes, duplicates” from social welfare schemes is counterproductively excluding genuine beneficiaries from the programmes.

In Andhra Pradesh, an official audit conducted after ration shops adopted the Aadhaar system revealed that many genuine ration card holders couldn’t collect food grain due to fingerprint authentication failure and a mismatch of Aadhaar numbers. The audit was undertaken at five ration shops in three districts of Andhra Pradesh in May this year. At three of the stores, more than half the legitimate beneficiaries had to turn back without any ration.

The audit findings reveal the flaws in the Aadhaar project which the government obdurately maintains is essential to target subsidies for the deserving. Even though the Supreme Court, in August, ruled that enrolment for Aadhaar can’t be made mandatory for government benefits, the order was challenged by the Unique Identification Authority of India, the Reserve Bank of India and other regulatory bodies.

On October 8, a Supreme Court bench headed by Justice J Chelameswar refused to modify the August order. It referred the matter to a larger bench.

Biometrics fail beneficiaries

Amid this uncertainty, there’s evidence of Aadhaar’s ineffectiveness.

Earlier this year, the Andhra Pradesh government adopted the Aadhaar system and installed electronic point-of-sale machines at fair price shops, or ration shops, to verify beneficiaries’ fingerprints. To get ration, every ration card holder now has to provide valid Aadhaar numbers for all members of the household, and then authenticate her fingerprints on the scanner in the point-of-sale device. (The device is connected to the database of biometric information collected during Aadhaar enrolment.)

The Andhra Pradesh Civil Supplies Department started distributing ration through this process in May this year. That month, at 5,358 ration shops, 6.87 lakh ration card holders of the existing 31 lakh beneficiaries (or 22%) didn’t take ration. At 125 ration shops, the figure was higher at around 58% – 50,151 of the total 85,589 card holders didn’t collect their ration.

Faced with such a difference, the Society for Social Audit, Accountability and Transparency, a body set up by the Department of Rural Development to conduct social audits for government programmes, conducted a survey. It audited five ration shops in the districts of Anantapur, Prakasam, and Nellore, taking 20% of the “left over ration card holders” as the sample size.

The society found that in Cheemakurthi in Prakasam district, 69 of the surveyed 82 beneficiaries said their fingerprints didn’t match. In Allur in Nellore district, this problem was cited by 106 of 203 ration card holders. In Ongole in Prakasam district, 50 of 93 beneficiaries blamed the same problem.

Besides this, there were other failures. The survey discovered 35 beneficiaries from two slums who earlier used to get relatives to collect ration on their behalf because they worked in neighbouring villages. Under the new system, they missed out since it is mandatory for the beneficiary to be personally available to collect the ration.

In one instance, a ration dealer in Mudigubba allowed the beneficiaries to collect their rations manually without Aadhaar authentication, but in the system they showed up as beneficiaries who did not collect their rations. This opens the possibility of them being incorrectly getting counted as “fakes or duplicates”.

While the government wants to extend Aadhaar to a number of schemes and services, the findings in Andhra Pradesh show that the system requires more scrutiny before it can be termed as a fool-proof way of welfare delivery.

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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.