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Aadhaar: A Kafkaesque Trial In The Making

We are entering a nightmarish world where we find ourselves utterly helpless before authority.

05/07/2017 8:42 AM IST | Updated 05/07/2017 12:47 PM IST
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With the advent of Aadhaar as a ubiquitous part of our life, Franz Kafka's magnum-opus The Trial offers some interesting parallels with the reality of the common citizens of this country.

Aadhaar is riddled with ethical problems and loopholes. It is not only mandatory for availing of welfare schemes and filing tax returns, but there are also serious questions about security, privacy and inefficient implementation techniques.

We are in a world defined by Kafka where for the simplest of tasks, the official solution is a long-winding road filed with red-tape and bribery check-points.

We are entering a Kafkaesque reality—a nightmarish and unpleasant world where we find ourselves utterly helpless before authority. In a Kafkaesque world (which may soon be our world in India), everything is bizarre and illogical. Nothing makes sense. Isolated, we can't comprehend how we entered this maze, and the authority figures of judges, officials, and politicians seem above reach.

Aadhaar, which stood for inclusivity and streamlining of governmental services, has acted like anything but. At the ground level, the initial enrollment in Aadhaar was marred with technical problems and corruption. The government handed out private contractors the duty to enroll people in the scheme, which openly flouted governmental rule and fleeced the poor in the name of processing fees. As for rations and other schemes, thousands of the people are being denied access to their allotted pensions, and rations. The positive biometric authentication mechanism regularly faces problems of internet connectivity, machine malfunction, and other technical issues. It would be best to read the ground reports of Nikhil Dey and Aruna Roy to understand the gravity of the situation (see here and here).

We are in a world defined by Kafka where for the simplest of tasks, the official solution is a long-winding road filed with red-tape and bribery check-points. The process itself provides a convenient environment for government officials (shakedown artist) to earn a quick buck at expense of the uninformed (mainly the poor).

The government continues to make Aadhaar mandatory for essential services such as ambulances, MNREGA and a myriad of schemes that mainly cater to the poor. It is absurd, much like the bureaucratic horrors endured by Josef K, the protagonist of The Trial. Josef is arrested but is not told why or what his charge is. He is rendered helpless in the face of countless judges, guards, attorneys, who hammer him down with bureaucratic procedure. His requests go unanswered, and his calls of help are left unheard, perhaps even by himself. Midway through the trial, K learns that his guilt is already assumed, and the bureaucracy, at its higher echelons, has secret rules and regulations. The identity of the bureaucrats is never revealed and no one has been acquitted. The entire system seems like a black monolith of complex rules and regulations where justice is a concept long-forgotten.

The entire system seems like a black monolith of complex rules and regulations where justice is a concept long-forgotten.

Individually, we will all experience the world of Kafka in our own frightening ways. Some unfortunate people will face it before others. As with everything else in this world, our position in the socio-economic pecking order will decide when. And as always, some will remain immune. As in Kafka's world, the immune decide the rules for the vulnerable.

Aadhaar has now been made mandatory for IT returns, except for some. It is now mandatory to link it to your bank account, failing which, your account will be no longer be accessible. If Aadhaar is not used for three years, it will be deactivated, following which your bank account will not be accessible. Your own money is no longer in your control, and slowly and inevitably, your life will also not be.

The bill has been passed with self-reference to regulations, which have not been added and will be decided by the UIDAI later. You are essentially signing a blank sheet, upon which the terms of imprisonment will be set. Your Aadhaar number can be deactivated if the committee finds it appropriate to do so. After Aadhaar is mandatory, the government will have its citizens tightly in control. The grievance redressal system is basically a call-centre, with no regulations for application status check or guarantee of redressal or remedy. One can already imagine oneself as Josef K, in front of his or her black monolith.

The bill has been passed with self-reference to regulations, which have not been added and will be decided by the UIDAI later. You are essentially signing a blank sheet, upon which the terms of imprisonment will be set.

The novel ends quite abruptly. Josef K is taken into a quarry and executed by two unknown officials. He dies without knowing his offence, or whether he was actually guilty. His guilt, I presume, was his very existence. An ordinary existence that could be persecuted, without much consequences to the monolith. A sacrifice for the benefit of many.

Kafka's ghost has come back to haunt us.

The only possibility of respite is quitting the black monolithic somehow, getting out while we still can. Else, as Aadhaar, with its labyrinth-like apparatus rapidly spreads its roots in our daily lives, we will find ourselves helpless, frustrated, drained and deranged over its many complexities. The labyrinth of Aadhaar will slowly, but inevitably, turn into a catacomb of modern existence.

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