An essay on eye-scanning, Indian’s floating population and inclusive governance. “That will give me an identity,” he said, gesturing at the computer station where he had Just completed his enrolment. “It will show that I am a human being, that I am alive, that I live on this planet. It will prove I am an Indian. ” – Mohammed Jail, (New York Times 2011 Introduction The 2011 report of the MIAMI on internal migration and human development in India estimated the number of internal migrants to be around 400 million people, at that time roughly a third of the total population.
The MIMI was launched by EUNICE and UNESCO to respond to the many problems existing around this population, also referred to as the ‘floating population’. These migrants, often never really settled, face great difficulties in accessing social security as this is often linked to residence. This is but one of the many ways in which these people are treated as ‘second-class citizens’, discrimination, a lack of political representation and low wage work being other examples. The aim of the MIMI to ensure: “… Hat processes of urban development are socially equitable” 2 crystallized In the launching of an “informal outwork of 200 researchers, NAGS, policy makers. I-JNI agencies and key partners” focused on raising attention given to internal migrants in policy and practices (UNESCO, 2011). The Indian government project called ‘Dharma’ might be an interesting development to these problems. It is a hugely scoped project aimed at providing all Indian residents with an identity by scanning their eyes and entrusting them with a number, enabling them to claim for example social benefits and a bank account .
In this paper I seek to answer the question whether this project might actually benefit this floating population, and how this can be embedded In a broader discussion on citizenship and legibility. Indian’s floating population’ As the MIMI report stressed to be the basis for its creation, the internal migrant population of India has up till now received very little attention from either research or polices, partly because of the difficulties In gathering data. Most attention got diverted to international migrants, as their positive potential to contribute to development was well researched and backed by political and economic interest.
First of all, speaking of the floating population does ignore the diverse backgrounds, practices and reasons to migrate of the people concerned. Goodling and West (2002) stress in their paper on the floating population in China that there is no set definition for this concept. It Is mostly used to denote the part of a population someplace else than where they are registered (Ibid. , 2002). Definitions and ambiguities put aside, this category does provide us with new and potentially better tailored ways of looking at urban development issues.
A quick glance at Indian swapper articles concerning internal migrants helps gain some insight in the myriad of problems surrounding this issue. A 2012 article in the Times of India reports how the floating population (in Locknut, India), mostly not accounted for in enumerations, appear to be the cause of major water shortages, as the water supply is based on the number of permanently settled. Other articles report discrimination migrants face. An article from 2008 (CNN- BIN)4 for instance shows how migrants become the subject of political discrimination and commotion in Iambi.
Political leaders articulate and incite an anger against the migrants, aerating an ‘other’ which is blamed to be an economic burden, obstructing the freedom of ‘normal’ citizens and “milking Mamba’s resources” (Ibid. 2008). Whereas some government policies seek to tackle the problems surrounding this population through settlement relocation and infrastructural improvements (Times of India 2013)5, initiatives such as the aforementioned MIMI pursue making them visible and included in society.
As was shortly noted in the introduction, the MIMI recognizes a trend of expanded use of rights based approaches in Indian law and policy. This generally means a ore equal citizenship and ways of governing, as government institutions are built more around the focus of ensuring and fulfilling human rights of all. The Indian Supreme Court has been a fundamental actor in demanding this change in government approach, and has for instance ordered the government in 2001 to provide a daily warm meal to every Indian schoolchild as part of the right to food.
But how to ensure and fulfill the rights of those who can’t be seen? In the particular case of the MIMI it means: “focus development of policy frameworks and practical strategies awards ensuring that all migrants have access to services and entitlements as enshrined in policies and law; and that urban settlements become inclusive spaces as they expand in size and diversity’. In practice it means slow and arduous changes and redefinitions of social and economic rights.
As the migrants are politically underrepresented, lobbying on their behalf is done largely by bodies such as the IM”. One particular government project might provide the nation’s poor, as well as the floating ones, a shortcut to claiming some of the rights hitherto denied to them. Scanning eyes and citizenship As of 2009 the Indian government has initiated a project aimed at identifying and registering all 1. 2 billion Indian residents and giving them an identification number: Dharma. It is done combined with a retina-scan to ensure the uniqueness of the identity.
As Sabine Demented, working for one of the companies hired to carry out the identification, puts it: “It will enable people to open checking accounts, apply for loans, insurance, pensions, property deeds, etc. What’s more, the government wants to make sure that welfare benefits go directly to the right person” (Saffron Magazine, 010). The only demands made of people in order to register are a retina-scan and fingerprint, name, gender (even transgender is possible), address and date of birth. Million people as of March 20146.
For one, it circumvents the widely used village- based identity system, making it hard or impossible for migrants to claim rights in a place where they are not registered. Some of the other assumed potentials, as framed in an article by the New York Times (2011)7, are ways in which citizenship will be less mediated through caste- , religious- or kin groups, but rather through an individual national identity. For the floating population, who often experience discrimination based on their respective group-identity, or exclusion because a lack thereof, this might prove to be a real structural change to their good.
It is also argued that this form of e-governance bypasses corruption, which is often linked to the inability of the poor to assert their rights through official bodies. Interaction with the state is hence deadline from local gatekeepers, which is important as, according to the Dharma director Ram Seven Sahara: “One cannot improve human beings… But nee can certainly improve systems”. This, of course, is questionable in its own right.
Reanimating (2012) sees this kind of service-consumer relationship, as is excreted through such systems, as a hindrance to political citizenship and a representative democracy (p. 129). Accessibility might be improved, but the means to criticize remain weak. As the project is still being implemented it is not easy nor feasible to entirely predict its potentials or flaws. In theory, though, one could wonder to what extension this project really brings about a first-class citizenship for all. The simplicity of the Dharma identification number gives it great inclusive strength.
Whereas before traditional group- or village based identification made it hard for internal migrants to claim certain rights, as the negotiation is often done through the same channels, a more direct way of interacting with government services has been made possible. The simplicity also lays bare the eventual narrow implications to the poor. As Harvey stresses in ‘The Right to the City (2003): “The freedom to make and remake ourselves and our cities is, I want to argue, one of the most precious yet most neglected of our human rights” (p. 2).
If citizenship means recognition by state and law and henceforth attaining the human rights bestowed upon citizens in a democracy, Dharma falls short in scope. It does not enable people to vote, nor does it empower them in gaining settlement rights. Furthermore, although it is not something to blame the project itself for, other structural as well as social and economic constraints keeping the floating population away from full citizenship still remain firmly rooted. Still too little attention is directed towards tackling real societal problems, such as discriminatory practices and uncontrolled arbitration.
To conclude, I do believe the first steps toward including this huge neglected part of the Indian population are being taken, and that in itself can be seen as a very good development indeed. Improving legibility, which this project in essence is to the government ( and which James Scott might condemn in other conditions), can in such abominable conditions of inequality truly contribute to strengthening the position of the weakest, albeit in really small steps.