India: Day One
The drive to enroll Indian residents in Aadhaar witnessed its apogee a year or so ago, and the present high enrollment rate signals that a shift from enrollment to application is taking place in India. But what does this mean for the central government, who has been so focused on reaching out to Indians across the country, across rural and urban locales, and across social lines, to register for an Aadhaar number? And how are the most vulnerable segments of the Indian populace getting what is touted by the state as not just an identity record, but a tool of empowerment?
These are the questions that the Aadhaar Team from the Reach Project addressed on our first day in New Delhi. Fighting the inevitable jet lag and revving up for a long day ahead, our party of five headed out into the north Indian summer to meet some of the people who were integral to Aadhaar design, structuring, logistics, and registration. Focusing on enquiring about how UIDAI works to enroll folks for Aadhaar, and how those without permanent addresses obtain an Aadhaar number, we made our way across the capital to speak to experts working with NGOs and the state government to fill in the gaps in the Aadhaar story.
The events of the day revealed how integral primary research is in understanding a phenomenon as large-scale and ambitious as Aadhaar. While secondary research gives us half of the story, speaking to experts on the ground gives us the ability to put the pieces of the puzzle together. Hearing first-hand from those who helped build and implement Aadhaar and learning from those who identified gaps in its reach enable our team to fill in the blanks and understand not just how a national identification scheme of this scale is rolled out, but how those in the most remote corners of India get enrolled, how they use their Aadhaar number in social service delivery schemes, and the issues that must be addressed for the total success of the program. These are issues we hope to continue to touch on as we speak to more experts and practitioners over the week, and as we uncover whether Aadhaar beyond simple enrollment is a boon to India.