Yes, biometric ID is rolling out in India and over a billion people are being locked away behind its electronic bars.
James Corbett | October 5, 2019
Whenever they talk about India and its “inevitable” rise to world economic dominance, establishment hacks like Thomas “Iraq War booster” Friedman always seem compelled to note that the country is “the world’s largest democracy.” They might want to talk to the residents of the now-defunct Jammu & Kashmir before invoking that phrase, but the underlying point seems to be that India—with its growing economic might and vibrant, functional parliamentary system—can provide a freedom-respecting alternative to the Chinese communist model for economic development and industrialization.
The pundits are, as usual, half right. India is being used as a testing ground and a potential model for the developing nations to follow . . . but that model has nothing to do with freedom. Rather than building some sort of system for protecting and fostering the rights of the individual, the Indian government has been quietly erecting the walls of the world’s largest biometric prison.
A recent story out of India puts the bars of this prison in perspective. Last month a “citizenship check” left nearly two million people in a legal limbo that could see them become stateless foreigners in danger of imprisonment and deportation from the country of their birth. The check took place in Assam, an Indian state fraught with its own history of conflict and tension between Hindus and Muslims.
The larger story is fascinating, but suffice it to say the fast-growing Assamese Muslim minority—despite including many native-born locals—is being cast as an immigrant invading force supplied by influxes of migrants from neighboring Bangladesh. The citizenship check is the result of an accord that was struck after a particularly violent anti-immigrant pogrom in the 1980s that saw hundred (or thousands, depending on the source) of Muslim migrants killed. To appease the local Assamese population, the government promised to perform a mass citizenship check to oust the illegal immigrants.
Only now, three decades later, is this being done, and it is not difficult to see why: Prime Minister Modi and the populist Hindu nationalist wave that he and his BJP party are riding see it as another battlefront in their war against the Indian Muslim minority.