How I discovered fingerprints of elderly can make Aadhaar cards invalid

Government agents are of no help.

 |  It Could Happen to You  |  4-minute read |   05-10-2017
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For the last one year, I have been dashing about on all sorts of missions. First, from banks to ATMs and now, from one Aadhaar card camp to the other. My only solace is that I am not alone.

It started on November 8, 2016, when Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced demonetisation in an unscheduled live televised address at 8pm. I missed it. I was on a flight from Chennai to Delhi. In fact, I said "Oh, yeah?" to the first person who informed me about it that night, thinking he was pulling a prank on me.

The morning of November 9 dawned unfair and harsh. I had received some award from the Schizophrenia Research Foundation in Chennai on November 8, given in cash - all Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 notes. They now rustled benignly in my bag.

It's an unimportant story that now elicits much mirth among my friends. But the running around began that day.

Run for Aadhaar

Now, I am running from one Aadhaar camp to another. My mother's Aadhaar card is one of those 8.1 million cards that have been "deactivated", without explanation - as reported by the Unique Identification Authority of India in August. These cards have been cancelled or suspended, either because "multiple Aadhaar numbers had been issued to one individual" or "discrepancies found in the biometric data or relevant documents".

My mother's card has only her name, no surname. And her date of birth is incorrect. My parents, as law-abiding citizens, had jumped into the Aadhaar fray as soon as camps were set up. Whoever processed their cards was clearly incompetent, or careless, or a novice. But that's not the whole story. We would have lived happily with that card, but for the government diktat to link pan cards to Aadhaar cards in May. When I tried to initiate the linking process, the UIDAI website declared her card "invalid". Why? No reason was offered by the website. So began the second phase of running around.

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Biometrics for seniors

The Aadhaar website lists a lot of enrolment centres and agents. But it's tough to locate them. I tried government agents, first. The phones kept ringing but no one answered. So I approached private agencies and paid various sums - Rs 300 to Rs 600 - to get my mother's card done. And I failed every time. The UIDAI simply rejected her applications. Why? "Don't know, madam, we tried our best," said the agents.

Now, as I flit around, with my 80-year-old mother, from one camp to the other, I am being told that it could be because the biometric machines are not designed for the elderly, with fading fingerprints or ageing irises. Everywhere my mother presses her fingers on the finger-reading devices: Left thumb, right thumb, 10 fingers. Everywhere it's the same story: no match.

The last agent we went to pressed her fingers on a damp pad and held it there for a while. Still no match. The only option available to us, according to the agent, is to try, try and try again, with fortified evidence of all her documents. May be, the UIDAI authorities will one day say "yes" to her supplications and update her correct details. She is just a face among the 0.675 per cent of the 1.2 billion Indians with invalid Aadhaar cards, after all.

But, I am not alone. My neighbour Meenakshi is facing similar challenges with her mother's Aadhaar card. So we have, sort of, teamed up. We inform each other about new Aadhaar camps close by. Sometimes, we go together and return together empty-handed. The only worry point is the new requirements and new deadlines - for linking Aadhaar to mobile numbers and to bank accounts. What if our mothers don't get their cards by then? Will their phones and accounts become "invalid" too?

My mother is now urging me to forget about it all and get on with life, including that Aadhaar card. How do you explain to someone born before Independence that without a "valid" Aadhaar card she may even lose access to her medical insurance? I am trying.

The other day, I read about an 11-year-old girl in Bulandshahr, Meerut, whose parents got a fake Aadhaar card made with incorrect age to marry her off. How did they manage to pull that one off? How smart!

In the meantime, for people like me, it's all about running…

Also read: Newton is a slap in the face of cool, urban Indians

Writer

Damayanti Datta Damayanti Datta @dattadamayanti

The writer is Executive Editor, India Today.

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