AADHAAR CONTROVERSY

At the very end of SC’s Aadhaar hearings, government admits it has been dishonest all along

When questioned by the court, the government admitted that the Supreme Court did not mandate linking phone SIM cards to Aadhaar.

As the Supreme Court hears petitions contending that Aadhaar violates the fundamental rights of Indians, it’s clear that much of the broad edifice created by the government in defence of the national identity project rests on shaky ground. The 12-digit biometric ID was supposed to be voluntary, although in a huge swathe of circumstances it clearly was not. The legislation for it was passed much after millions had already been enrolled. It was supposed to be secure but has instead aided the leaking of massive amounts of government data. It was meant to make welfare delivery more efficient, but in many cases has made people’s lives harder. And, on Wednesday, the government admitted that it had been lying about another aspect too: the Supreme Court had never made it mandatory for all phone SIM cards to be linked to individual Aadhaar numbers.

Justice DY Chandrachud, one of the five judges on the Constitution Bench hearing the case, spelled it out for Rakesh Dwivedi, counsel for the Unique Identification Authority of India, which runs the Aadhaar project. “In fact there was no such direction from the Supreme Court, but you took it and used it as tool to make Aadhaar mandatory for mobile users,” Chandrachud said, according to PTI.

To this, Dwivedi admitted that SIM-Aadhaar linking had commenced on the basis of the recommendation of the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India even before the Lokniti Foundation order – in which the Supreme Court ordered SIM cards to be verified – had been passed. Dwivedi went on to argue that the government had a legal right to mandate that all SIM cards be linked to Aadhaar.

What actually happened

If that is confusing, here is the sequence of events:

  • In 2015, the Supreme Court issued an order saying Aadhaar could not be made mandatory until the court settles the fundamental rights challenge one way or the other.
  • In 2016, the Aadhaar Act was passed, but it focused on the delivery of subsidies and welfare and so did not cover phone connections.
  • In February 2017, the Supreme Court ordered the government to verify and register every SIM card in the country, but it did not require this to be done by linking with Aadhaar.
  • Despite this, the government spread the message that the Supreme Court had made linking Aadhaar to your SIM card mandatory, a false claim that was also relayed by major news organisations. Others criticised these false messages, to no avail.
  • When asked why the government was forcing people to link their SIM cards to Aadhaar, despite orders from the Supreme Court saying it could not be mandatory, the government repeated this false claim that the Supreme Court had itself ordered the linking.

On Wednesday, when Justice Chandrachud questioned him about these false claims, saying government has used their order as a “tool”, counsel for UIDAI seems to have admitted two things:

  • That it had already made Aadhaar-SIM linking mandatory, based on what it saw were powers granted in the Telegraph Act and despite the Supreme Court saying Aadhaar cannot be mandatory for any services.
  • That the government has been misguiding the people all this while, claiming that it was the Supreme Court that made Aadhaar mandatory, when in fact that was not true.

As Gautam Bhatia, one of the lawyers challenging Aadhaar tweeted, this revelation – coming so late in the process – is about as perfect an encapsulation of the government’s approach to Aadhaar as possible: Get its way first, tell everyone that it is required and mandatory, figure out the legalities afterward.

Aadhaar’s DNA

This approach is, in fact, built into the DNA of the Aadhaar project and dates back to before the Bharatiya Janata Party took a u-turn and decided to support it. Aadhaar was first introduced into the Indian Parliament through a Bill in 2010, but that was rejected by a parliamentary committee because of legislative, security, and privacy concerns. Another committee in 2012 recommended that the law explicitly say that it was voluntary, and allow people to opt out. Yet even as these debates were underway, with no law being passed to legitimise the programme, the UIDAI continued pushing enrollment of a scheme. This legitimacy would eventually only be provided in 2016 – seven years after enrolments began.

Indeed, one of the central fears of the government’s enrol-first, legalise-latter approach was the fait-accompli concern: that the government would simply argue in court that so much money has been spent enrolling more than 1 billion people onto this platform, and then getting them to link to other things, that it would be a waste to strike it down now – even if it violated some rights. That is exactly the tack the government took, as has now been laid bare in the mobile linking. This strategy has been enabled to a large part by the Supreme Court’s delay in taking up the Aadhaar case urgently.

Even those who do not believe that Aadhaar violates fundamental rights ought to be able to see the bad faith with which the government has rolled out and defended the scheme, going so far as to argue in court that Indians have no fundamental right to privacy and then, brazenly, denying having made that argument in the first place. Justice Chandrachud’s question to the UIDAI counsel was useful in telling us more about how this government has approached the entire case. Hopefully it provokes the Constitution Bench to take a close look at many of the other claims that the government has been making about Aadhaar. If it was brazen enough to lie to the public about a Supreme Court order, what else has it been misleading us about?

Support our journalism by subscribing to Scroll+ here. We welcome your comments at letters@scroll.in.
Sponsored Content BY 

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:

Play

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