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Why Signing Up For Aadhaar Was Probably Not Your Best Decision

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By Shinjini Devbarman:

The center recently dismissed the right to privacy, as not being a fundamental right, in its defense of the Aadhaar Card Scheme. In a petition hearing on 23rd July, Attorney General Mukul Rohatgi said that Privacy was not a “guaranteed right” and therefore parting with personal information to avail Aadhaar card doesn’t mean that there is a violation of privacy.

Image source: Wikimedia Commons
Image source: Wikimedia Commons

The episode opened up the debate of the implication of such a scheme that collects the biometric data of the applicants. The scheme is an attempt to uniquely identify people, somewhat like the social security system of the US, wherein every resident is allotted a Unique Identification (UID) number of 12 digits. This enables the card holders to avail a plethora of government services. For this purpose, the government collects biometric details of the card holder and stores them in a centralized database. This is where the conflict emerges.

In November 2012, a former Karnataka High Court judge, Justice K S Puttaswamy and a lawyer Parvesh Khanna filed a Public Interest Litigation against the Aadhaar scheme in Supreme Court on the grounds of violation of privacy. Article 21 of the Indian constitution – Protection of Life and Personal Liberty -prevents encroachment on personal freedom and the citizen has the freedom to personal liberty. Although the scheme is meant to maximize access to government welfare schemes and mainly to digitize government processes in order to prevent corruption, the data collected from the applicants is seen by people as an invasion of privacy and an imposition.

The Aadhaar card, which is the world’s largest identification number scheme, has no law governing the proper functioning of the project. This means that there is no law to ensure that the data collected is stored safely. The biometric details (retinal scan, fingerprint) are personal information which can be misused if it falls at the wrong hands.

Furthermore, when the Centre told the Supreme Court that Right to Privacy is not a fundamental right and therefore the scheme cannot be revoked, it provoked a strong reaction from people. It is seen as an absolute violation of individual liberty. The largest unique identification system in the world is apprehended by cynics as a mass surveillance project that threatens the personal liberty of individuals.

Ever since its genesis in 2011, the scheme has been viewed with a lot of skepticism. The contention was that asking for biometric details of the card holders is an invasion of privacy. The fear is that with such a massive scale collection of data, who makes sure that our details are safe and what happens when/if it falls into the wrong hands? What happens when the data is compromised? We don’t know how this information is controlled and who might have access to it.

It is true that privacy is a subjective concept, which is oftentimes conflated with the idea of concealment, and that is when the problem starts. If the attorney general’s statement is to be taken into account, there is all the more reason to worry. Because if privacy is not of utmost importance to the government, then the details in the Aadhar card are at risk of misuse. If the biometric data collected is abused, it could lead to the creation of fraudulent documents in the name of a person.

In the contemporary cyber era with computerized data collection, information is stored and shared across different technological platforms. Such systems are always at risk of being exploited. Therefore, when the government representative makes statements about privacy being a non-issue, it incites the doubt of the citizens. It is not about how an ‘honest person has nothing to hide’; it becomes an issue of accountability. It makes citizens rethink their faith in the government’s responsibility to safeguard the interests of the citizens, especially in the modern democratic setup.

Dr R. Ramakumar, a professor at the Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS) has been vocal about the privacy issue surrounding the Aadhaar. He suggests looking for an alternative welfare scheme that uses less invasive technologies. In a telephonic conversation, he said that “there should either be a public welfare scheme that by design factors in privacy policies, or even if it doesn’t, then it should be regulated by privacy policies”.

In the name of transparency, such invasive techniques directly impinge on the personal freedom of individuals. One way the government could step up for damage control is by ensuring penal terms for privacy violation. It is imperative that any system of data collection factors in the risks and consequences of such a practice. The government should ensure the citizens that it has a robust mechanism in place to prevent leakage of data in transit.
The bottom-line is that there cannot be a trade-off between the right to personal liberty and the right to survive. What we need is a welfare scheme that is conducive to both criteria.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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