On the cards
From having too little identity we Indians now have too much of it
There was a time when Indians had too little identity. It was an age of many shortages, including that of identity, which had to be strictly rationed.
Very few Indians had passports, and the sole proof of our identity in those days was the all-important ration card. This card enabled you to go to a government-designated ration shop and get subsidised rice, sugar, kerosene and other items of everyday consumption.
But, more than that, your ration card gave you an official identity. It confirmed that you were who you thought you were. It was a philosophical underpinning of our existence. Descartes said ‘I think, therefore I am’. We could say ‘I ration card, therefore I am’.
Then the government introduced the PAN card. PAN stands for Permanent Account Number, which is supposed be the number assigned to you for paying income tax.
However, you do not actually have to be a taxpayer to get a PAN card. Anyone and everyone can get one, and use it as a proof of identity for such transactions as opening a bank account, or buying and selling property.
Now we had not one but two identities – the ration card and the PAN card – rather like Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. But the government still wasn’t satisfied and felt it should top up our identity some more. So it introduced the voter ID card, which, along with the ration card and the PAN card, gave us three-in-one identities, rather like the Holy Trinity in Christian theology.
Now we had more identities than someone with a multiple-personality disorder. But the government came up with yet another card, the Aadhaar card, which not only added to your identity but did so biometrically.
Now, instead of having too little identity we have too much of it. Which makes it all the easier for the government to keep tabs on us and find out exactly what we’re up to. Or down to.
We still have plenty of shortages of bijli, pani, etc. But we have no shortage of identity and cards to go with it. Indeed, we might soon have enough cards to make up a pack of them. All of them jokers, with the joke on us.