The Big Story: Red card

Nearly 700 days since the Supreme Court first decided that most matters challenging the validity of Aadhaar, the Indian government’s 12-digit unique identity project, would be heard by a Constitution Bench, the matter is finally proceeding. On Tuesday, a five-judge Constitution Bench will take up the numerous petitions related to the Aadhaar project, most of which turn around a question that should concern us all: Do Indians have a right to privacy?

The Supreme Court’s delay in hearing this case has been shameful and dangerous. Despite the Supreme Court acknowledging that there is a fundamental question at play here, the government has nevertheless continued to expand Aadhaar in such a manner as to make it nearly mandatory for all Indians. It has even dropped the fiction that Aadhaar is voluntary , one that it held on to as a means of placating the Supreme Court even as it coerced citizens into signing up.

What may have once seemed like a conspiracy theory – that the government was in a mad rush to expand the project to present it as a fait accompli to the court and thereby protect it from any legal challenge – is now plainly obvious, with the apex court mostly turning a blind eye. Nevertheless, the court’s decision to finally take up the fundametal question of privacy is welcome.

Aadhaar was sold as a panacea for the problem of leakage in welfare delivery – as a means of ensuring that subsidies are actually delivered to intended beneficiaries. Instead, over time it has become a tool for exclusion, denying beneficiaries their due and allowing the government to sell this as “savings”.

More dangerously, from a privacy standpoint, the project has pivoted from being about welfare delivery to becoming a mandated identity document across every forum – governments now require Aadhaar for everything from birth certificates to college admissions to phone connections. And because that one 12-digit-number is seeded across these various databases, the potential for profiling citizens becomes all too easy with Aadhaar, with no net benefit in welfare delivery. Indeed, the cavalier attitude with which governments treat Aadhaar numbers, putting them out in public with little security, has revealed the attitude towards privacy. And the authority that runs Aadhaar has not been shy about its potential for commerical use.

These matters may not be settled in the next few days. Indeed, the first question the court will consider is whether it needs to be larger than just a five-judge bench, considering precedent and the fundamental question at hand. It is imperative that, even if the bench decides that the matter needs to be heard by a nine-judge bench – so that Indians can get a definitive answer on whether we have a right to privacy – that this too is set up with utmost urgency, instead of having to wait another 700 days for the next hearing.

The Big Scroll

  • No need to worry even if your Aadhaar number has been leaked, says UIDAI chief to Mayank Jain.
  • The Aadhaar scramble in Uttar Pradesh schools might keep some children out of the classroom, writes Shreya Roy Chowdhury.
  • Watch the myth-buster: All the things that you think Aadhaar is, but is not.
  • Cautious optimism: Does the Supreme Court’s Aadhaar-PAN decision hold hope for a future victory, asks Apar Gupta.
  • Read all of Scroll’s coverage of Aadhaar in our Identity Project series.

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  1. M Taylor Fravel in the Indian Express says the current India-China standoff is reminiscent of the war of 1962 between the two countries – but that analogy need not stretch so much as to suggest a repeat conflict.
  2. “Indian people deserve greater transparency. Live broadcast of testimonials before parliamentary committees is a good low-hanging fruit to start with,” says a leader in Mint.
  3. Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar actually has very little political space to maneuver despite seeming to be in the driving seat, and is more likely to end up helping the Bharatiya Janata Party grow, writes Sanjay Kumar in the Hindu.
  4. I know Kashmir well because I have served in the Valley between 2006 and 2009 as DIG (operations) of Srinagar and I have no hesitation to add that the electronic media by its irresponsible actions is widening the chasm between the citizens of the Valley and the rest of the country,” writes MP Nathanael in the Hindustan Times.


Don’t miss

Aqui Thami says that the Gorkhaland demand is valid, adding that the racism faced in mainland India only reinforces this view.

I was 15 when I left home to attend high school in Siliguri. Growing up on the mainland during those years, I came across many versions of the person I was supposed to be, as a Gorkha person. These opinions were incompatible with what I had experienced as a child growing up in Darjeeling. In junior school, my teacher Miss Lama often told us we are the daughters of Kangchenjunga – so she reminded us to be righteous.

In college, people would greet me with “Salaam Saabji”, mimicking accents they had seen actors perform in the movies. When people learn I’m from Darjeeling, they say something about tea, without fail. A professor once reasoned that Gorkha/Nepali women are trafficked in such unbelievable number, because we are beautiful and soft.

The media tells stories about us that have become part of our lived experiences. The stereotype of a Gorkha watchman that struggles to speak in Hindi might be comic relief for some, but it causes irreparable psychological harm to the Gorkha community. The majority of mainland Indians do not even think they are being racist when they use the term Gorkha interchangeably with the word watchman.