A national citizens’ register or the Unique Identity (UID) Card is a long standing demand. This was seen as not only necessary but a near-sure way of weeding out the infiltrators from the eastern and western borders of India.
Hence, it is with trepidation and suspicion that one views the recent announcement of the committee handling the project that the card will not bear personal details like religion and place of birth.
When Nandan Nilekani of the Infosys fame was appointed Chairman of the Unique Identification Authority of India (UDAI), to implement the project, it was welcomed by all as it was expected to be kept out of politics and the pressures and string pulling that go with it. It was hoped that the UID would be a professional job done, ensuring that it would not suffer the routine red tape delays and haphazard decisions.
But reports say that the Demographic Data Standards and Verification Procedure (DDSVP) Committee headed by N Vittal in its report said that personal details like region and religion should not be mentioned in the UID as they were ‘liable’ to be used for profiling and targeting. Ironically it is the lack of such basic info. in the UID that can lead to its misuse and abuse.
Obviously Vittal has done a command performance. Perhaps after constituting UDAI, as an afterthought the Vittal committee was appointed to conform the Unique I-card to the UPA’s political agenda.
If the place of birth (district and state) is not mentioned in the report, citizens from our eastern neighbour Bangladesh, who are one of the biggest sources of illegal immigration can easily pass off as people from any of the border states. Same would be the case with Kashmir. The Vittal committee report has mentioned some technical reason for keeping the data on region and religion out of the UID. It is for the technology experts to overcome this technical problem, if any. The committee said, according to news reports, that “the date/place of birth/residence and other attributes should not be embedded in the UID number. When state/district Ids are embedded, the number faces the risk of becoming invalid and misleading the authenticator when people leave place to place. It can also lead to profiling and targeting based on region, state or district from where the person hails.” (ToI, January 17, 2010).
Under the UPA government, every Indian’s identity is crucially related to his or her religion, because each of its policy is communal, targeted against the large majority community and intended to drive a wedge between and within castes. In a scenario like this, UID, which was trumpeted as a national register that would help identify and deport the illegal immigrants would serve the purpose poorly. The whole project was to be inspired by committed nationalist interest.
The UDAI has announced that children will also get the number. Every week hundreds of Bangladeshi women cross over into India and give birth to children. They may be coming here for health and economic reason. But being born here and getting a number would automatically make them Indian citizens. It is not a speculative but a practical scenario. And hence, it becomes imperative that the origin of the person is embedded in the UID. The suggestion not to mention the religion might be to protect the crypto minorities, especially Christians, whose real strength is not being reflected in the Census reports.
The first batch of the UID cards are expected to be issued by mid 2011. It is hoped that the UDAI would rethink on its decision on not giving the personal details and act only in the interest of the nation and the society, and not allow such a mammoth task to go waste, after spending thousands of crores of rupees on it.