Accepted Papers:

Travelling Numbers: Tracing the Transformations of Aadhaar  


Ranjit Singh (Cornell University)

Paper Short Abstract:

This paper traces the imbrication of India's biometrics-based national identity number, Aadhaar, into various information infrastructures of social welfare delivery in India.

Paper long abstract:

This paper traces the transformations of India's biometrics-based national identity number, Aadhaar, as it travels across other government databases. I will document the historical transformation of discursive justifications for investing in biometrics from socio-technical imaginaries of national security to social security in India. As the socio-technical imaginary of social security became a driving force for implementing the project, the success of Aadhaar in creating a 'clean' identity database of Indian residents has translated into possibilities of renovating the bureaucratic processes of social welfare delivery. Here, 'clean' refers to absence of duplicate entries in a database. The possibilities of bureaucratic renovation include 'seeding' of Aadhaar numbers into other government databases of social welfare beneficiaries in order to 'clean' them. I will focus on the use of Aadhaar in the pilot projects to test the implementation of cash-based subsidies in lieu of in-kind entitlements to renovate the Public Distribution System (PDS) of food grains in India. The imbrication of Aadhaar into modes of Indian governance has formed the foundation for claims around improving the last-mile delivery of government services, curbing widespread corruption in social welfare delivery, and removing street-level intermediaries in the interaction between the Indian state and its citizens. The paper will draw on primary ethnographic material from six months of fieldwork in India and secondary sources to unpack these claims. It will illustrate the uneven bureaucratic imbrication of Aadhaar and the mundane challenges it presents for citizens in certifying that they are who they say they are.

panel T085
Infrastructures, subjects, politics