Why civil Liberties activists walked out from Nandan Nilekani’s lecture #mustread #UID

Dear Fellow Citizens,

This is to inform you about why the civil Liberties activists walked out from the Sixth Justice VM Tarkunde Memorial Lecture because Shri Nandan Manohar Nilekani was chosen to deliver it on November 23, 2012.

While delivering his welcome address while introducing the legacy of Justice Tarkunde, the stalwart of civil liberties, Kuldip Nayar, veteran journalist and former ambassador underlined that the democratic space is shrinking and had Justice Tarkunde been alive he would have opposed centralized databases like Union Home Ministry’s National Population Register (NPR) and Centralized Identities Data Register (CIDR) because it is an assault on civil liberties and human rights.

It is noteworthy that Shri Ashok Desai, a Senior Advocate who was on the dais to introduce the Speaker also raised the issue of the fear of an emerging Orwellian situation where a Big Brother watch on everybody drawing from George Orwell‘s book 1984 that taught us that an all-knowing corrupt government is a terrifying situation.

We wish to inform you that as soon as Shri Nilekani started speaking, a significant section of the audience comprising of civil liberties activists walked out in protest from the Multi-purpose Hall of India International Centre, New Delhi. Those who walked out included Vrinda Grover, a well known lawyer, Dr Usha Ramanathan, noted jurist, Kalyani Menon Sen, a reputed feminist writer and researcher, , students of Jawaharlal Nehru University Students, former Presidents of Jawaharlal Nehru University Students Union (JNUSU), Sandeep Singh and Sucheta De, Gopal Krishna, Citizens Forum for Civil Liberties (CFCL) and several others.

The walk out was a protest against Shri Nilekani being invited to deliver the lecture in memory of the stalwart of human rights and civil liberties, Justice Tarkunde. The UID project has been challenged since its inception. The activists who walked out of the lecture have repeatedly tried to engage with Shri Nilekani at various public platforms but he has consistently declined to answer their questions or enter into any discussion with them.

The civil liberties activists circulated a Statement of Concern on UID-Aadhaar which included demands like “The project be halted, a feasibility study be done covering all aspects of this issue, experts be tasked with studying its constitutionality, the law on privacy be urgently worked on (this will affect matters way beyond the UID project), a cost: benefit analysis be done and a public, informed debate be conducted before any such major change be brought in.”  This statement was issued by Justice VR Krishna Iyer, Retired Judge, Supreme Court of India, Prof Romila Thapar, Historian, Late K.G.Kannabiran, Senior Civil Liberties Lawyer, Kavita Srivastava, PUCL Aruna Roy, MKKS, Nikhil Dey, MKKS, Late S.R.Sankaran, Retired Secretary, Government of India, Deep Joshi, Independent Consultant, Prof. Upendra Baxi, Jurist and ex-Vice Chancellor of Universities of Surat and Delhi, Uma Chakravarthi, Historian, Shohini Ghosh, Teacher and Film Maker, Amar Kanwar, Film Maker, Bezwada Wilson, Safai Karamchari Andolan, Trilochan Sastry, Indian Institute of Management, Bangalore, and Association for Democratic Reforms, Prof. Jagdish Chhokar, ex- Indian Institute of Management, Ahemdabad and Association for Democratic Rights, Shabnam Hashmi, ANHAD and Justice A.P. Shah, Retired Chief Justice of High Court of Delhi. But till date these concerns and questions remain unanswered.

The organizers rushed and tried to take back the papers but several members of the audience refused to hand over the papers. As the activists walked out, the organizers termed the peaceful and silent distribution of the Statement of Concern on UID as ‘trouble’. After the program, many members of the audience who came out after hearing the lecture revealed that it was not at all convincing.

Most respectfully, we are submitting ten questions for your consideration:

1.   Why do we need Unique Identification (UID)-Aadhaar Number as a 16th identity proof which in fact is an identifier and not an identity proof. Hasn’t linking of cash transfer with UID made it mandatory contrary to its continued claim that it is voluntary? 

In the beginning, it was said that the UID would be voluntary. Now, it is creeping into becoming mandatory, with the threat that those who don’t have a UID cannot access services of many kinds, including rations and bank accounts. How does NN see the implications of this creep for civil liberties and the rights of the people?

2. Why present and future Indian citizens should be allowed profiled based on biometric data? Are citizens worse than prisoners? The indiscriminate collection of biometrics of prisoners is not allowed as per Identification of Prisoners Act.

3. Why have countries like UK, Australia, the Philippines rejected UID like projects?

Countries such as the UK, Australia, the Philippines have rejected identity projects that closely resemble the UID project because of its civil liberty implications, the prohibitive cost, the untested technology and because it will make the people subservient to the state. What is the reason for thinking that Indian citizens can bear these risks and costs?

4.  How can UIDAI and UID project be deemed legitimate if it has been disapproved as violation of the prerogative of the Parliament by Parliamentary Committee on Finance

The Parliamentary Committee on Finance, in December 2011, roundly disapproved of the proposed Bill and the project. The government has not come up with a revised law, and there is in fact no law that, today, governs the project. Isn’t the protection of the citizen by law important?

5. Who will be held accountable for violation of citizen’s privacy law and data protection?

The UID project poses a threat to the privacy rights of citizens, and Shri Nandan Nilekani has acknowledged that many times over. Yet, the project is steaming ahead without any law on privacy in place, and is believed to be breaching many privacy principles. How is Shri Nandan Nilekani addressing this in his project as project leader?

6. If violation of confidentiality promised in the Census Act is done with impunity, how can census like UID exercise be trusted? 

7. What is the guarantee that whosoever controls Centralized Database of Indians will not become autocrat like Hosni Mubarak who handed over citizens’ database to US Government?

8. Isn’t the entire UID related exercise meant to provide market for biometric and surveillance technology companies and World Bank’s partners like International Business Machines (IBM), Gemalto, Intel, Safran Group, Microsoft, and Pfizer, France and South Korea?

There is an extraordinary dependence on corporations, many of them companies with close links with foreign intelligence agencies. How are the implications of this factor being dealt with?

9. Isn’t linking of UID with voter id, land titles, National Intelligence Grid, National Population Register (NPR), National Counter Terrorism Centre (NCTC) etc an assault to rights of citizens? 

The ubiquity that the UIDAI is trying to get for the UID — where it will be linked with the National Population Register, and service such set ups as the CCTNS, the NCTC, the NATGRID– where are the protections for the citizen from an invasive state?

10. Who will guarantee that the centralized database of UID, NPR will not be used for holocaust, genocide, communal and ethnic riots, targeting of minorities and political dissidents?          

Why is technology treated as if it has no politics, or no civil liberties implications, when we know that it most certainly does?

As a background to the goings on around UID related developments, we wish to draw your attention towards what Parliamentary Standing Committee (PSC) on Finance said about the Unique Identification (UID)-Aadhaar number project of Shri Nandan Manohar Nilekani, Chairman, Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) who is helping create a Database and a Surveillance State based on illegal and illegitimate collection of biometric data despite explicit legislative disapproval.

In its report to the Parliament, the Parliamentary Standing Committee (PSC) on Finance has taken on board studies done in the UK on the identity scheme that was begun and later withdrawn in May 2010 when the proponents of ID project were defeated in the elections. The Committee took note of the problems like “(a) huge cost involved and possible cost overruns; (b) too complex; (c) untested, unreliable and unsafe technology; (d) possibility of risk to the safety and security of citizens; and (e) requirement of high standard security measures, which would result in escalating the estimated operational costs” in undertaking such projects.

We submit that the Parliamentary Committee has noted that the Central Government has “admitted that (a) no committee has been constituted to study the financial implications of the UID scheme; and (b) comparative costs of the aadhaar number and various existing ID documents are also not available.” In view of such glaring omissions, the Parliamentary Committee denounced the UID/aadhaar project as `unethical and violative of Parliament’s prerogatives’ and as akin to an ordinance when the Parliament is in session.

It may noted that Supreme Court of Republic of the Philippines July 23, 1998 rejected the National ID program initiated by President Fidel V. Ramos on December 12, 1996 through “Adoption of a National Computerized Identification Reference System” in its 60 page judgment on two important constitutional grounds, viz: one, it is a usurpation of the power of Congress to legislate, and two, it impermissibly intrudes on our citizenry’s protected zone of privacy. In India, High Courts of Madras, Mumbai and now the Supreme Court are seized with the matter.

We submit that among many questions that have emerged, one is: Has Shri Nilekani, in rank of the Cabinet Minister taken the oath on Constitution of India to abide by its provisions?

It must be remembered that even Mahatma Gandhi opposed a law similar to UID as a Black Act in South Africa from 1906 to 1914 saying,”…I have never known legislation of this nature being directed against free men in any part of the world. I know that indentured Indians in Natal are subject to a drastic system of passes, but these poor fellows can hardly be classed as free men” and “…giving of finger prints, required by the Ordinance, was quite a novelty in South Africa. With a view to seeing some literature on the subject, I read a volume on finger impressions by Mr. Henry, a police officer, from which I gathered that finger prints were required by law only from criminals.”

In August 1906 the Asiatic Law Amendment Ordinance became law in the Transvaal. Any Indian who did not register by a certain date would no longer be allowed to stay in the Transvaal. This law stated that every Indian man, woman or child older than 8 years must register with a government official called the registrar of Asiatics. This registrar was to also take the fingerprints of the people he registered and issue them with registration certificates, which they had to show to any policeman who asked to see them. Notably, UID scheme too is based on biometric data like finger prints and iris scan.

It is noteworthy that PUCL had already disassociated itself from the Sixth Justice VM Tarkunde Memorial Lecture program because of wrong choice of speaker. In a letter dated November 21, 2012 to the human rights community, V Suresh, National General Secretary (Elect), People’s Union for Civil liberties (PUCL) said, “We had issued a statement where we made explicit that our opposition to UDIAI has not changed nor our continuing to oppose the UID project. We had also spoken to and followed by writing to the organisers informing our stand on UIDAI, that selection of a person like Mr. Nilekani is  contradictory to the very ideals that Justice Tarkunde’s  work and persona reflected, and therefore the demand for calling off the lecture as also that we did not want to be associated with the event.”

In view of the massive opposition to the proposed databases as the structural basis being laid out for future authoritarianism through despotic projects like UID, NPR, National Intelligence Grid (NATGRID), Human DNA Profiling, National Counter Terrorism Centre (NCTC), Land Titling Bill, 2011 and Public Information Infrastructure and Innovations, we invite the urgent intervention of the fellow citizens to boycott and oppose such illegitimate advances of the State at the behest of the ungovernable and unregulated foreign biometric and surveillance technology companies.

We submit that the collection of biometric data supports the ideology of biological determinism with its implicit and explicit faith in the biometric technologies. There are dangers of trusting such technological advances for determining social policies.

On behalf of the groups working on civil liberties we request you to consider the merit of the opposition to biometric identification exercises and the assault on civil liberties and examine the ramifications of the unfolding automatic identification regime being facilitated by Shri Nilekani, and others in the face of corporate media unquestionably promoting identification and surveillance technology companies.

We submit that rewriting and engineering the electoral ecosystem with the unconstitutional and illegal use of biometric technology in a context where electoral finance has become source of corruption and black money in the country. This would lead to linking of UID, Election ID and Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs) which is not as innocent and as politically neutral as it has been made out to be. It is noteworthy that all EVMs have a UID as well.

We submit that the Parliamentary Committee on Finance on National Identification Authority of India Bill, 2010 (UID Bill) has already rejected the idea of biometric data based identification scheme for mankind’s biggest database ever and the UID Bill.

In the face of such attack on citizen’s sovereignty despite explicit legislative disapproval, support of informed citizens is urgently needed to safeguard civil liberties and human rights of present and future generations.

We will be happy to share relevant documents and information in this regard.

civil liberties activists


Real War on Women -Saudi Arabia implements electronic tracking system for women

By Agence France-Presse
Thursday, November 22, 2012 10:54 EST, Thde raw story
RIYADH — Denied the right to travel without consent from their male guardians and banned from driving, women in Saudi Arabia are now monitored by an electronic system that tracks any cross-border movements.
Since last week, Saudi women’s male guardians began receiving text messages on their phones informing them when women under their custody leave the country, even if they are travelling together.
Manal al-Sherif, who became the symbol of a campaign launched last year urging Saudi women to defy a driving ban, began spreading the information on Twitter, after she was alerted by a couple.

The husband, who was travelling with his wife, received a text message from the immigration authorities informing him that his wife had left the international airport in Riyadh.
“The authorities are using technology to monitor women,” said columnist Badriya al-Bishr, who criticised the “state of slavery under which women are held” in the ultra-conservative kingdom.
Women are not allowed to leave the kingdom without permission from their male guardian, who must give his consent by signing what is known as the “yellow sheet” at the airport or border.
The move by the Saudi authorities was swiftly condemned on social network Twitter — a rare bubble of freedom for millions in the kingdom — with critics mocking the decision.
“Hello Taliban, herewith some tips from the Saudi e-government!” read one post.
“Why don’t you cuff your women with tracking ankle bracelets too?” wrote Israa.
“Why don’t we just install a microchip into our women to track them around?” joked another.
“If I need an SMS to let me know my wife is leaving Saudi Arabia, then I’m either married to the wrong woman or need a psychiatrist,” tweeted Hisham.

“This is technology used to serve backwardness in order to keep women imprisoned,” said Bishr, the columnist.
“It would have been better for the government to busy itself with finding a solution for women subjected to domestic violence” than track their movements into and out of the country.
Saudi Arabia applies a strict interpretation of sharia, or Islamic law, and is the only country in the world where women are not allowed to drive.
In June 2011, female activists launched a campaign to defy the ban, with many arrested for doing so and forced to sign a pledge they will never drive again.
No law specifically forbids women in Saudi Arabia from driving, but the interior minister formally banned them after 47 women were arrested and punished after demonstrating in cars in November 1990.
Last year, King Abdullah — a cautious reformer — granted women the right to vote and run in the 2015 municipal elections, a historic first for the country.
In January, the 89-year-old monarch appointed Sheikh Abdullatif Abdel Aziz al-Sheikh, a moderate, to head the notorious religious police commission, which enforces the kingdom’s severe version of sharia law.
Following his appointment, Sheikh banned members of the commission from harassing Saudi women over their behaviour and attire, raising hopes a more lenient force will ease draconian social constraints in the country.
But the kingdom’s “religious establishment” is still to blame for the discrimination of women in Saudi Arabia, says liberal activist Suad Shemmari.
“Saudi women are treated as minors throughout their lives even if they hold high positions,” said Shemmari, who believes “there can never be reform in the kingdom without changing the status of women and treating them” as equals to men.
But that seems a very long way off.
The kingdom enforces strict rules governing mixing between the sexes, while women are forced to wear a veil and a black cloak, or abaya, that covers them from head to toe except for their hands and faces.
The many restrictions on women have led to high rates of female unemployment, officially estimated at around 30 percent.
In October, local media published a justice ministry directive allowing all women lawyers who have a law degree and who have spent at least three years working in a lawyer’s office to plead cases in court.
But the ruling, which was to take effect this month, has not been implemented.


Kandhamal riot: Twelve convicted

By Express News Service – PHULBANI

28th November 2012 10:05 AM

Twelve persons were convicted of the Kandhamal riot by the fast track court no. 2 Judge B N Mishra on Tuesday.

All the 12 belong to Jarginaju village under Raikia police limits. They were arrested for their alleged involvement in arson in the village during 2008 riots in Kandhamal.

The Judge sentenced them to six years of imprisonment and imposed a fine of Rs 5,000 on each. On failure of payment of the fine, they will undergo an additional year of rigorous imprisonment.

Ten more persons chargesheeted in the case were acquitted for lack of evidence.


What do women want from netas? #mustread

The Times of India, Ahmedabad, 28 November 2012

VADODARA: Do political parties which aspire to form governments and make policies for the public have a committee to stop sexual harassment of women in all spheres? And why hasn’t the state government set up committees for dealing with sexual harassment of women at all work places and educational institutions as per the Supreme Court guidelines provided in the Vishakha judgment?

With barely 20 days left for the assembly elections, women activists of a city-based NGO have started raising these questions in letters to presidents, working committee members and office-bearers of all political parties. The letters come at a time when Nov 25 to Dec 10 is being observed as international fortnight observance on ‘Violence Against Women‘.

In a letter listing its demands and damning facts about lack of women welfare in the state, the NGO Sahiyar (Stree Sangathan) wants these political parties to announce their programmes, and organize public discussions on women’s right to live in a violence free society.

Statistics listed by the NGO state that the 2011 Census revealed 4,54,396 fewer girls as compared to boys in the age group of 0 to 6 years, while crime against women galloped with nearly one lakh cases registered under violence against women sections in the period between 2001 to 2008. In 2008, an average of one rape case against women was registered in the state, while 17 women on an average had to go to the police with mental and physical harassment related complaints.

The activists have also demanded a toll free, 24-hour helpline with a common number to be set up in the state. “so that any woman facing violence or fearing an act of violence could call this helpline to gain immediate support”.

The women also demand that a committee dealing with sexual harassment complaints should be formed in all institutions of local government including the gram panchayats and the phone numbers and addresses of the committee members be made publicly available.

#India- Eight Dalit houses burnt in caste violence

By Express News Service – CUDDALORE

28th November 2012 08:48 AM

In a sudden attack on a Dalit colony near Vadalur, at least eight houses were set ablaze by a group belonging to caste Hindu community on Tuesday. The men also damaged eight other houses and destroyed property.

The violence was reportedly triggered off after some Dalit men allegedly teased a caste Hindu girl. Tension was palpable in Pacharapalayam village even as a heavy posse of policemen stood guard.

The police booked 150 persons of the cast Hindu community on charges of engaging in violence while seven Dalits were booked for eve-teasing. Residents of the village told Express that around 200 caste Hindus, predominantly youth, suddenly rushed to their street in the early hours of Tuesday and vandalised their houses. They said the attack went on uninterrupted for over two hours. “Police did not come to the spot even after two hours,” they complained.

Priyanka, a college student, was still to recover from the shock. She said, “More than 50 youngsters entered this street around 6 am and started pelting stones at our houses. When they started attacking our houses randomly, I ran into my house.”

Arasan, an elderly Dalit man, said, “I was sitting beside the road when they ran into this street. I thought they were going to play volley ball. But they attacked my house and broke the roof tiles. The youth come through one way and the elders came through another. I pleaded with them not to attack my house but they damaged the roof tiles and broke vessels kept outside to fill water from public taps.”

For Palaniyammal (45), the concern was the safety of her grandchildren who were terribly frightened. She said, “I hugged the children tight and sat inside. The noise I heard from outside shook me.”

Six bikes and a four-wheeler were also damaged during the rampage while textbooks of children and certificates were burnt. Totally, 11 dalits and two caste Hindus were injured in the incident and were admitted to hospitals.

The affected Dalits, whose houses were burnt in the attack, were given Rs 5,000, 10 kg of rice and two sets of clothes as immediate aid by the government.

DRO Rajendran, Cuddalore sub-collector Lalitha and Cuddalore SP Radhika visited the village


Zakia Jafri loses right to file protest petition against SIT report

Ahmedabad,Nov 27, DNA

A local court on Tuesday ruled that Zakia Jafri, whose husband and former Congress MP Ehsan Zafri was killed in Gujarat riots, has lost the right to file protest petition against the SIT report, giving a clean chit to Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi, due to lapse of time.

Ehsan Jafri was among 69 people killed burnt alive by a mob during the riots at Gulburg Housing Society here on February 28, 2002.

Metropolitan Magistrate BJ Ganatra ruled that Jafri cannot file the protest petition as she failed to file it despite being given sufficient time.

The court ruled that Jafri can now only make oral submission regarding her protest against the SIT report.

The court order comes at a time when the state is in midst of assembly poll campaigning and Modi is seeking a fourth term as chief minister of Gujarat.

The SIT had submitted its final report in the court regarding Gulburg Society riot case giving a clean chit to Modi and others in 2002 riot cases in February.

The SIT had provided a copy of the report to Zakia in May asking her to file a protest petition within the stipulated time of two months. However, the protest petition has not yet been filed by Jafri.

Jafri’s lawyer S M Vohra told the court that they have approached the Supreme Court seeking a clarification on certain issues and the next date of hearing of the case in the apex court is December 3.

Vohra sought time from the court till the hearing in the case is over in the Supreme Court.

Vohra later told PTI that generally local courts await the outcome of the case in the Supreme Court. However, this court has chosen not to wait for the same and given an order which is “very shocking.”

“We will convey this to the Supreme Court before December 3,” Vohra said.


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