How do you see the SC’s order and what are its implication on the roll out of mandatory Aadhaar?
I believe the unanimous 9-0 judgement is an outstanding affirmation of the vibrancy of democratic India in this 21st century. This landmark judgement shall pave the way for a bright future. The immediate consequences would be that the government’s decision to mandate Aadhaar would have to be reviewed. There is another case being heard by the SC, but in the light of this judgment which has spelt out what privacy entails for the average Indian, I think the government should suo moto roll back on it decision.
What are dangers you were particularly concerned about?
In today’s world data has become an integral part of trade, commerce, business, governance. If you are aware the European Union, one of India’s major trade partners, has brought in the GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation) system and looks very stringently at how a country with which they do business deals with its internal data, both corporate and individual. Today, business and trade information holds the highest value in the world. Businesses go to great extent to ensure the protection of this information, smoking out boardrooms as a small example, and here we are offering everything to entities we don’t even know. Take the GSTN (Goods and Services Tax Network) for example.
The Finance Minister told the Lok Sabha that data on 3.5 crore transactions are being collected from businesses, small and large, every single working day across the country. That figure is bound to grow. Which is again being manned by private parties, whether it’s the ICICI, HDFC, NSE. Now the public has no idea who their stakeholders are, which could include foreign entities, too.
Why was this so important to you?
This is not a personal issue but I strongly believe in the individual’s privacy. It is also my duty as an elected representative of people to make sure my people aren’t hassled unnecessarily. Over the past two years, old people unable to get their iris scanned, people working in the fields whose fingerprints won’t register, have to run to the Aadhaar centre again and again to avail basic government support.
The government argues it is the larger interest of compliance?
Why do they need so much biometric then? I call it ‘biometricked’. They are tricking the populace that it will cut down on corruption and leakage of government dole, there is nothing to show that it has attained that target so far. Let them first count the notes that have been returned after demonetisation.
How come you didn’t have more support for this campaign amongst your peers in Parliament?
Happy to claim there has been a whole big group of young people who have morally and technically supported in this fight for privacy. What though has to be taken into account is the fact that privacy as a concept is somewhat alien to Indian society. Such is our socio-economic reality, where large families live in small spaces in close proximity to each other, thus the average Indian is not allowed much privacy. May be because of this non existent concept, no Indian language such as Oriya or Hindi, has an accurate descriptive translation for ‘privacy’. The closest we come to is ‘gopaniyata’ which is secrecy.
Is there still room for the government to defend mandating Aadhaar, with reasonable restrictions?
Some of my colleagues, I don’t want to name any one, justify infringement of individual privacy on the ground that it was required for national security. We know the Indian bureaucratic system and the police only too well, and know that our intelligence fails us when it comes to national security, but is a success on snooping on citizens of the country. Should we allow the country to be at the mercy of an industrialist-bureaucrat- politician nexus?
You have also recently joined the fight against imposition of Hindi.
Language also stands for dignity. Governments and people across the globe are doing everything to save their languages and here we are, in India, trying to impose one north Indian language thereby ensuring that all other languages die a very painful natural death.
How many languages do you speak?
Oriya, English, Hindi, French, Bengali, a few words of Tamil and Spanish. I have no problems when someone speaks to me in Hindi. I have been conversing with auto-rikshaw drivers and jamadars in Delhi for years but I cannot read or write Hindi.