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Database State: Decoding the Implications of Unending Census

Written By mediavigil on Tuesday, October 03, 2023 | 3:07 AM

Centre of Social Medicine and Community Health (CSMCH), JNU Alumni Association Lecture Series 
Speaker- Dr. Gopal Krishna
Moderator- Dr. E Premdas Pinto
Introduction- Dr. Indira Chakravarthi


Abstract: The lecture dwells on the journey of the census and its sister databases, their convergence, and State’s effort to classify ‘valid’ and ‘in-valids’. It examines the dominant narrative which persuades people to think that they have nothing to fear after trusting their personal sensitive information to a database State. The lecture probes questions like: Will the marriage of statistics of biological attributes and identification technology with digital sculpture alter the relationship between the citizen and the State? Is the online version of the ‘age-old register' indeed a ‘digital equivalent' of offline ‘age-old register'? Is ‘digital tattooing' an equivalent of age-old tattooing? Isn’t the idea of a population database linked to ‘close observation’ of the entire human population? Can it transform the State’s legal assault on the human body in exceptional situations into a capture of the human body by the State for good? 

The lecture interrogates the maxim: “If you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear” articulated by Joseph Goebbels, propaganda minister of Nazi Germany. The big database-driven state actors will have citizens believe that the idea of a big database is linked to the concepts of inclusion, cooperation, partnership, and consultation. They make it sound benign through donations, distribution of petty contracts, powers of persuasion, peer pressure, publicity, advertising, and by making citizens’ entitlements condition precedent.

The lecture dwells on some specific aspects of the journey of the Census. The House Register for the non-synchronous National Census of 1871 had 17 questions. One of them pertained to "Caste or Class". The 1881 synchronous national Census Schedule had 13 questions. One of them was about "Caste, if Hindu, sect, if of other religion". The 1891 Census Schedule had 14 questions. One of them was "Caste or race-Main caste". The 1901 Census Schedule had 16 questions including "Caste of Hindus & Jains, Tribe, or race of others". The 1911 Census Schedule had the same set of questions. The 1921 Census Schedule too had similar number of questions. It also had "Caste, Tribe or Race" questions. The 1931 Census Schedule had 18 questions including "Race, Tribe or Caste".  The 1941 Census Individual Slip had 22 questions including "Race, Tribe or Caste". The 1951 Census Individual Slip had 14+13 questions. The 13 questions were optional. It did not have a Caste question. It had a "Special Groups" question.

Responding to the omission of the caste question, Dr. B. R. Ambedkar wrote, " I am sorry, I cannot illustrate these points by reference to facts and figures. The census which is the only source of information on these points fails to help me. The last census omits altogether the caste tables which had been the feature of the Indian census ever since its birth. The Home Minister of the Government of India who is responsible for this omission was of the opinion that if a word does not exist in a dictionary it can be proved that the fact for which the word stands does not exist. One can only pity the petty intelligence of the author" in 1955. During the Census in question, the Union Home Minister was C. Rajagopalachari. Notably, Dr. Ambedkar was the Union Law Minister from 15 August, 1945 till 11 October, 1951 for 4 years, 57 days. He was from a political party named Scheduled Castes Federation. 

The 1961 Census Individual Slip had 13 questions. It included SC/ST questions. The 1971 Census Individual Slip had 17 questions including SC/ST question. The 1981 Census Individual Slip (Universal) had 16 questions including SC/ST questions. The 1991 Census Individual Slip had 23 questions including SC/ST questions. The 2001 Census Household Schedule had 23 questions including SC/ST question. The 2011 Census Household Schedule had 29 questions including SC/ST questions. 

Significantly, the next Census was due in 2021 but it has not been conducted as yet. It seems Aadhaar/National Population Register has replaced the Census done at an interval of 10 years for unending Census which paves the way for unlimited, indiscriminate surveillance and an unlimited government at the behest of non-state actors and anonymous donors.

Database State: Decoding the Implications of Unending Census

Profile: Dr. Gopal Krishna did his Ph.D. from Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU). His thesis is on "Corporate Crimes, Public Institutions and Their Accountability: An Inquiry into the Industrial Disaster of Bhopal”. He has formally studied philosophy, law, and mass communication. His post-doctoral work at the Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS) focused on the status of inter-state migrants in the ship-breaking industry. He has been a Fellow of the Berlin-based International Research Group on Authoritarianism and Counter Strategies (IRGAC). His current work explores the relationship between processes and practices that are taking the world towards the “commodification of everything”, including nature, human experience, public space, and data with consequences for cognitive justice.

On September 6, 2023, the Delhi High Court recorded his role in the case related to the disclosure of foreign contracts signed by the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) in its final order. He represented Col. Mathew Thomas, an octogenarian defense scientist before the Central Information Commission (CIC) in this UIDAI related case. He is a co-petitioner in the Supreme Court in this case. In July, 2023, he wrote, "Why repeal biometric aadhaar Act after proposed withdrawal of DNA technology Bill".

After the first 1448 page long verdict on the Aadhaar Act on September, 26, 2018, BBC interviewed him to understand the implications of the verdict. His interview in the aftermath of the release of  audit report of Comptroller and Auditor General of India [CAG] titled the ‘Functioning of Unique Identification Authority of India’ on April 6, 2022 shows how the concerns expressed by 17 eminent citizens stands vindicated. 

Dr. Krishna has shown How Aadhaar promotes a digital caste system. His writings reveal that Aadhaar is not bipartisan, it is mired in authoritarianism. He was the first to reveal how UIDAI's MoUs remains intact despite admitted unconstitutionality of Section 57 of Aadhaar Act and after audit reports of CAG and Moody on UIDAI and Aadhaar, there is logical compulsion for the States to unsign MoUs with UIDAI. He found out how UID/Aadhaar commenced when Dayanidhi Maran and A. Raja were Minister of Communications and Information Technology, reveals the Report of Task Force on Identity Management which included IBM, Microsoft, Oracle, Computer Associates, Novell, Honeywell, HP, Red Hat, ILANTUS Technologies, MPhasis and PwC. Besides Wipro, Accenture, Ernst & Young and Safran, these companies bulldozed the UID/Aadhaar/NPR project for their own guaranteed revenue flow irrespective of change in the government. 

He was a petitioner in the foreign hazardous waste case in the Supreme Court. As a public interest lawyer, he has been leading the advocacy for asbestos-free India, stoppage of waste dumping, incinerators, and automatic surveillance technologies. 

He has authored monographs on the subject of the role of the WTO Tribunal in the Asbestos case and on the subject of the nature of pure consciousness in BrahmaSutra and Dhammapada. He co-authored "Omnishambles of UID", the earliest monograph on the subject of the UID/Aadhaar database project which captured the moment. He was one of earliest researchers who pointed out that Nandan Nilekani is subverting the Constitution

He has been writing on myriad aspects of corporate crimes, and the war on the ecosystem. Since 2000, he has been working as a law and public policy researcher. In 2010, he co-founded the Citizens Forum for Civil Liberties (CFCL) to undertake research and advocacy on the subject of data justice, citizenship, and consciousness of justice with a specific focus on big data-based automatic identification and mass surveillance technology. He gave oral and written testimony before the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Finance that examined the National Identification Authority of India, Bill, 2010, the original Aadhaar Bill, which was withdrawn and re-introduced as the Money Bill in, 2016. He was one of the signatories of the "Statement on the Illegitimate and Inappropriate Use of Money Bills and Finance Bills" published by Economic & Political Weekly. He has shown how claims about savings from Aadhaar; is just puffery. 

The report of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Environment, Forest, Science and Technology on the DNA Technology (Use and Application) Regulation Bill 2019 acknowledges his submission. The government withdrew this Bill in July 2023. He gave oral and written testimony on the Consumer Protection Bill, 2015 before the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Food, Consumer Affairs, and Public Distribution. His submission is acknowledged in the report of the parliamentary committee. His submission dealt with e-commerce and the rights of citizen-consumers. In his article in the EPW, he reveals how linking biometric identifier with everything causes "civil death" and defies fundamental rights with impunity. 

He has written for publications like Science, Economic & Political Weekly, Academy, Labour and Development Journal, Mainstream, Business Today, The Wire, Samayantar, The Tribune, Outlook, Rediff.com, Deccan Chronicle, The Hindu, www.livelaw.in, www.moneylife.in, Hindustan Times, Newslaundry, Dainik Bhaskar, Subaltern Journal, Yathavat, and Prabhat Khabar. His articles have been cited in several academic publications. He is the editor of a web journal www.toxicswatch.org. He has written some 200 articles in English and Hindi on the subject of UID/Aadhaar number database and related aspects of national security. 

He has been invited by the German Parliamentary Standing Committee on Transport in the past besides the European Parliamentary Committee on Environment in Brussels and a European Parliamentarian’s Group in Strasbourg, France for his testimony. He has been an invitee before several UN Committees, Supreme Court Committees, and Parliamentary Standing Committees. Most recently he appeared before the Joint Parliamentary Committee on Biological Diversity Amendment Bill.

In July 2023, he authored "Permanent population screening in India and Europe – historical lessons are ignored" in a German magazine Overton. In July 2020, he wrote a paper titled "Revisiting the Concepts of Panopticon and Synopticon: An Inquiry into Naturalization of Totalitarian Surveillance in the Name of COVID-19 Pandemic". The document discusses the state-proposed app Aarogya Setu which traced citizens’ contact with COVID-19. It also discloses how the pandemic was used as a justification for the profiling and mass surveillance of Indian citizens without their consent or any transparency mechanisms. 

In the summer semester of 2022, he taught a course titled “New Faces of Authoritarianism: Interdisciplinary Perspectives from the Global South”. The course was hosted by the Institut für Sozialwissenschaften at Humboldt University as part of the Chair for Comparative Political Science and Political Systems of Eastern Europe. 

In recent years, he has been writing on farmers and agricultural produce market laws and digitalization of agriculture in response to aadhaar-based "agristack", agrarian distress, and farmers' suicide. His paper on the subject has been published in the 18th Volume of Law, Environment, and Development (LEAD) Journal managed by the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), University of London, and Geneva-based International Environmental Law Research Centre (IELRC). 

He has been capturing the phenomena of the emergence of the Database State and the role of the non-state actors, the beneficial owners of big data firms in his writings.

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