Friday, November 11, 2011

India: Gender Minorities Need, Fear UID

Gender minorities: UID makes them unique target (DNA India)
Members of sexual minorities, who are in desperate need for identity proof as it is a necessity for something as simple as buying a SIM card, are unsure if they should welcome the Aadhaar. Recounting the examination that she had to put herself through to secure a passport, Veena said: “It took me one year and two months to get my passport. At the passport office, the official questioned me for more than an hour. At the hospital, I was stripped, my organs scanned and photographed. At the police station, too, I had to answer many uncomfortable questions.” Authorities even asked her why she needed a passport and if she would misuse it.

Manjesh said that sexual minorities have to work hard to prove their identity and show that the certificates were genuine. “Securing my father's property was difficult. People beat me up and accuse me of stealing someone else's documents,” he said. “I have been unable to get the benefits that are given to disabled people even though I am eligible for it because of the gender and identity issue,” another member said.
Background: India's Transgendered - The Hijras

We say it all the time here: Identity management is about people. A functional Identity Management system must catalog enough descriptors of each individual to preclude confusion among individuals, enabling one type of discrimination (discernment). But some traits useful for identity management might also be used to discriminate in ways that have no basis in law or place in a society that seeks to unleash the talents of all its members.

At its core, India's Aadhar is an attempt at modernization. It seeks to modernize the way the government administers the services it provides (welfare, etc.); it seeks to provide its citizens with modern mechanisms for acting within a globalized, interconnected world (banking, telecom, etc.). It also seeks to endow each of its citizens with a legally meaningful personhood, allowing each individual to enter into contracts, vote and more fully exercise their basic rights. Biometric technologies have lowered the costs to India and other countries of developing an Identity Management infrastructure, something without which no democratic nation-state can fulfill its responsibilities to its citizens.

In striving to attain the more explicit goals behind Aadhar, India is also forced to examine anew aspects of its ancient culture within the context of rapid modernization. This is far more than a technical challenge. The subject of caste came up early (how couldn't it?) and it was included in the information the Census collected on each individual. Gender identity, routinely included in identity management systems, presents a similar non-technical challenge.

With each potential identity management detail, there are three choices: Exclude collection; Include collection to establish individual identity and allow group discrimination (i.e. voting age); Include collection to establish individual identity but prohibit group discrimination (i.e. eye color). Each decision begs other questions. Answering those questions has serious societal consequences. Then again, so does not asking the questions. Despite the technical wonder of biometrics and organizational challenge of identity management, this is the hard work of Aadhar and modernization. If was easy, everyone would have done it.