On the cards

From hav­ing too lit­tle iden­tity we In­di­ans now have too much of it

The Times of India (New Delhi edition) - - TIMES NATION - Jug Su­raiya

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.

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