Even as the 12-digit Aadhaar number is progressively restricting our individual liberties, a public hearing on Aadhaar, as a part of Break Aadhaar Chains campaign, was allegedly stopped by Bandra Police at National College Conference Hall in Bandra on Saturday. The venue had to be shifted at the eleventh hour to Peasants and Workers Party office in Mahim.

According to the organisers, the cops informed the National College Principal Dinesh Panjwani to not let the event take place for no rhyme or reason. Kamayani Mahabal, the organiser of the event, said, “Why were cops present at the public meeting which was supposed to be held in closed doors? It was a panel where people raised their grievances on how they are robbed of their rights for not possessing Aadhaar card. There was nothing anti-national in it.”

Dinesh Panjwani, the Principal of National College, maintained that the event was a tentative booking done by the former Principal. “I had no idea of any such event. It was when the police called, I followed up and learnt about it. Neither did the former Principal send us any letter given or any booking charges were paid without which how would the event take place?” he said. When asked if the cops had arrived at the college, Panjwani denied and added, “We did receive a call from them enquiring about the event and I mentioned that the booking is tentative.”

Upon contacting Bandra Senior Inspector Anavkar, he stated that the National College falls under Khar Police jurisdiction. Sanjay More, Senior Inspector, Khar Police Station, denied having interfered with the programme. “We have no reason to interfere or to object to such an event. We will not stop anyone from giving a speech. There was no call made. Ask them (organisers) if they had any receipt of the booking – it was a tentative booking. It’s their internal problem,” he said.

Interestingly, Kamayani mentioned how some cops were present throughout the event and took interest in the hearing.

The public hearing comprised of noted panelists – Retd. Justice Hosbet Suresh, Advocate Bapoo Malchom, Professor R Ramakumar (Tata Institute of Social Sciences), and Journalist Sucheta Dalal to presented their views on Aadhaar and the citizen’s relationship with the government. However, the last minute change of venue did affect the attendance to some extent.

Several people from Raigarh, Satara, Sindudurg had attended the event. They presented many cases which show how the mandate of possessing an Aadhaar card is restricting their access to government schemes. In Thane’s Shahpur block, over 200 pregnant tribal women have been denied of their allowance under the Janani Suraksha Yojana for not having an Aadhaar card; several were denied ration for over 27 months for improper authentication of Aadhaar.

Professor Ramakumar, from “There is no written law stating that the Aadhaar Card is mandatory. Time and again the Supreme Court has ruled that no person should be denied any service for not possessing an Aadhaar number. This has been consistently violated by the Indian state. It has been made mandatory despite the apex court’s verdict. That’s depriving people of their livelihood in a big way.”

When asked of the interference of the police, Ramakumar said, “The police persuaded the Principal to cancel the event. This sort of interference was bizarre and completely undemocratic. The event was being held indoors where the police had no business to interfere. In fact, the event was a great success.”