Like any other publication puts out the occasional series of reports/articles on important issues. “Educating India” is one series which has been running occasionally, “Ear to the Ground” is another.

More recently, we have had “Identity Project”, an ongoing series on and around Aadhaar. Six articles written separately by two authors – Anumeha Yadav and M. Rajshekhar – had been published over the past fortnight until December 29.

A series helps focus attention on a particular issue. The writer(s) have more space to cover all the related aspects. And they have the freedom to develop their arguments more fully.

Not all series pull it off though. Sometimes the articles, free from restrictions on length, tend to ramble. Sometimes they do not hold together as one because each article does not connect with what came before or what comes afterwards,

Not the Identity Project series though. The series seems to be the ideal set of articles on a particular subject.

Much has been written over the past few years on Aadhaar. The series seems to be able to tell us more, both about its history and the new uses to which Aadhaar is being put.

Gaining prominence

Aadhaar started as a programme that was meant to plug leakages in government programmes. Over the years it has grown into something much larger. Now, post-demonetisation, in the drive to a less cash-intensive India, a new and more prominent place is being given to Aadhaar.

What does all this mean? We need to know from those who designed Aadhaar, those who are trying to put it to new uses, and from those who see its problems and limitations.

The articles in the Identity Project series do exactly all that.

The series started with an introduction, drawing attention to how Aadhaar is very different from the social security number of the US. The first article also pointed out to the restrictions in the US on the use of the social security number by private companies – something that does not seem to exist as of now in India. (The series was actually preceded by two articles on the experience in Gujarat (this one and then this one) which provided the setting for one set of issues – the limits of biometric identification in Indian conditions.)

The second article on the experience with using Aadhaar in Chhattisgarh highlighted one particular set of problems with its use in the public distribution system, and how the government has been forced to try and work around infrastructural deficits that affect the efficacy of Aadhaar.

The third and fourth articles dealt with issues that have not been covered much in the media (at least to my understanding): about how private companies are using Aadhaar information, sharing it with others (even building paid services on such information) – all without the consent of the “citizen with a number”.

The fifth article were on draft rules introduced in Parliament on Aadhaar, which again have not been discussed much in the media and should be. The sixth seemed to be a concluding piece, but evidently not. One looks forward to reading what the seventh and eighth articles in the series are going to offer.

The articles are based on interviews with the builders of Aadhaar, a few users, a few “Aadhaar number holders and critics – and most important those in private firms who are finding new uses for Aadhaar data.

Offers a point of view

The Identity Project series is complete in a sense, with a definite point of view. There is no attempt to provide a false sense of balance. It is important for journalism to give all perspectives a hearing, but good journalism is not about giving all perspectives an equal hearing. That would suggest both (all) sides have equally valid points. That need not be so. It is the job of journalism to offer its own perspective and to do so by arguing its case well. It should at the same time give the reader the opportunity to disagree and follow her own line of thinking.

It is not that the Identity Project series has been perfect. One can discern problems in writing and editing. Perhaps the third and fourth articles on private companies using Aadhaar and the implications for privacy went on for too long. They could have been more tightly written and perhaps even condensed into one.

The headline for the sixth article bordered on the sensational (“Aadhaar shows India’s governance is susceptible to poorly tested ideas pushed by powerful people”). The text itself does not do justice to the headline, which is based on a single sentence in the article and which is not adequately established (“… a Joint Secretary with a good idea might not be able to see it to fruition. But a bad idea, driven by powerful people, will go through.”)

These are minor problems with the articles though. All in all, the Identity Project series is what a series should be in journalism.

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