AADHAAR CONTROVERSY

'If Lord Hanuman can get an Aadhaar number, why can't a Pakistani spy?'

Days after claiming to have uncovered an espionage network, Delhi Police says it is yet to get a response from the Unique Identification Authority of India.

The strained relationship between India and Pakistan witnessed a new twist last week when Delhi Police claimed that a staffer at the visa department in the Pakistan High Commission’s office in New Delhi had led them to an espionage network.

The Pakistani man, identified as Mehmood Akhtar, was detained briefly and released after a round of questioning, with the police citing diplomatic immunity.

Several documents pertaining to army and paramilitary troop locations were said to have been found in his possession.

He was soon declared persona non grata and asked to leave India.

More arrests followed as four men said to be Akhtar's associates were apprehended.

But the real twist in the tale was something else.

Akhtar had apparently first produced an Aadhaar document with his photograph, which identified him as Mehboob Rajput, son of Hasan Ali, residing at 2350, Gali Near Madari, Rodgran Mohalla in Chandni Chowk.

The address was correct, police said, except that the house with this number is actually on GB Road, Delhi’s red light area, nearly a kilometre away. There is no Rodgran mohalla nor gali near Madari located in Chandni Chowk.

The Aadhaar document had clearly been obtained using fraudulent means, police concluded, once Akhtar's identity as a Pakistani national was established.

“We have written to the Unique Identification Authority of India but they are yet to respond on the matter,” said Joint Commissioner of Delhi Police (Crime Branch) Ravindra Yadav.

Getting an Aadhaar number

“He [Akhtar] often used to approach people who used to come to the visa department," said a police official who was privy to the investigation. "This is how he came in contact with a person identified as Ashiq Ali.”

“Ali later introduced Akhtar to another man, Yaseer, who has helped him to acquire the Aadhaar number,” the officer said. “The only things that Akhtar gave Yaseer were a fake name and two passport sized photographs, and the rest was left to his imagination.”

The police suspect the involvement of one or more Aadhaar operators employed with some enrolment agency – private bodies entrusted with the task of collecting the biometrics under the largely outsourced unique identity programme.

The incident gains prominence as earlier this month the Supreme Court of India referred to a larger bench all petitions challenging Aadhaar as an authenticating proof of identity and availing of social benefits by citizens that the central government is soon to notify through its gazette regulations approved by the UIDAI under the Aadhaar Act, 2016.

“The Pakistan spy’s fake Aadhaar number is only one case. There could be thousand others,” said Col (retd) Mathew Thomas, one of the first persons to file a civil suit against the UID system in 2011. “One has to see what kind of information these enrolment agencies are dealing with. There is nothing too shocking about the Pakistani spy having acquired an Aadhaar number through forged means. The entire process takes place with literally no cross verification.”

Indeed, the weaknesses in the system have been exposed by media reports about Aadhar numbers being issued to Lord Hanuman and Tommy Singh, a dog, among others.

The Act says that any person who has lived in India for 182 days in one year preceding the date of application for enrolment is eligible for acquiring an Aadhaar number. All that is needed in addition is a designated introducer – no documentary proof of identity or address is required.

“These provisions demand for a stricter verification process, which does not happen,” said Prasanna S, a Delhi-based lawyer representing several petitioners challenging the unique identity programme at the Supreme Court. “This is how we have so far come across Aadhaar numbers issued to Lord Hanuman and other fictitious characters.”

In the 2014 case, the man who got enrolled as Hanuman had later claimed to be the victim of a technical glitch and told police that he did so after the system refused to accept his biometrics which he had already registered.

"If Lord Hanuman can get an Aadhaar number, why can't a Pakistani spy?" Prasanna asked.

The roles of enrolment agencies have always been a subject of dispute ever since the UPA-led government started issuing Aadhaar numbers in 2010 under an executive order, pointed out lawyer Rahul Narayan, who is the counsel for several petitioners challenging the unique identification project in the Supreme Court.

“What are the credentials of these people who shall deal with data of utmost privacy? What is the guarantee that they will not misuse or leak those data? These questions have often been taken up since the inception of the programme,” Narayan said.

Days before the Lok Sabha elections in 2014, Narendra Modi had called the Aadhaar project a political gimmick with no vision. Two years down the line, the project has fired the imagination of policy-makers who are convinced that biometrics is the best possible way to help the state in identifying and verifying beneficiaries of social welfare schemes, allow portability of benefits across states and enable administrators to link and track multiple databases at one go.

To expand enrolment under the scheme, the Centre has often asked the state government to ask residents to produce Aadhaar for a range of interactions with the state. These have ranged from employment in government schemes, participating in elections, opening bank accounts, registering for marriage to, more recently, adopting a child. The Supreme Court has had to intervene time and again in the past two years, passing orders saying that the Aadhaar number cannot be a pre-condition for availing public services.

A forged Aadhaar number?

“Technically, there is no such thing as a forged Aadhaar number,” said a former senior UIDAI officer who did not want to be identified. “The unique identity is a combination of a set of biometrics with some basic details like name, address, date of birth, etc. What is often called a forged identity is actually a possible mismatch in the said combination.”

Elaborating on the technicality, he further said, “For instance, if a person acquires a driving license and a voter’s identity card through forged documents and then registers under the unique identity scheme, will that be considered a forged Aadhaar registration? No, because the forgery took place at other points.”

He further said, “In the past two years, we have received thousands of enquiries from police across the country asking us to cross-verify what they considered forged Aadhaar documents and in most cases we landed in a similar situation. In many of those cases, probes were initiated and only on obtaining sufficient evidence to suggest that information produced by the enrolled person were wrong, we deactivated their accounts.”

“One has to be really cautious in dealing with such cases as the other person can also take up the matter in a court because to get a legitimate unique identity number is also his right. In one particular case, documents of a candidate whose papers were forwarded by the OSD [Officer on Special Duty] of a union minister had come under scrutiny” he said.

However, the officer said that it is not very difficult to trace the background of a candidate under scrutiny because all documents submitted at the time of enrolment are uploaded in a central database.

On being asked about the role of enrolment agencies, he said that these private entities are approved by the headquarters and the machine operators working under them have to clear a test.

“It is not that operators do not indulge in mischief. In past one year, nearly 200 operators were blacklisted.”

The senior officer, however, could not recall any instance of having blacklisted any enrolment agency.

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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.