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Global Development Institute

Aadhaar-Led Identification and Datafication Among Informal Workers in South India: A Data-Justice Perspective

Shyam Krishna

Abstract

Aadhaar – India’s national biometric digital identity programme through its unique 12-digit number for every Indian resident – has been intricately linked to daily aspects of living in recent years. The programme aims to enable digital linkage to governmental and non-governmental services and through that achieve digital financial inclusion of groups like unbanked informal workers into the mainstream economy. This paper focuses on the Aadhaar experiences of two groups of informal workers in an Indian urban setting – cab-drivers and domestic workers. These informal workers access digital platforms like online recruitment portals and gig-economy apps which are aimed at employment of urban ‘blue collar’ workers, using Aadhaar as an identity for verification through its complex technological ecosystem.

Based on this evidence base, the paper provides two contributions. First, it presents a novel theoretical lens of social justice by operationalising ‘abnormal justice’ in a way that is synergistic with elements of surveillance and datafication inherent to digital identification. This results in a framework of data justice, enabling analysis along cultural, economic and political dimensions. Second, using this framework the paper deconstructs empirical evidence collected using semi-structured interviews and field observations. Ultimately it argues that while Aadhaar identity and the data-flow it enables has become critical in enabling digital participation of informal workers, digital identity is intimately related to inequality experienced by urban marginalised groups in three ways: current use of digital identities reifies extant cultural inequalities experienced by marginalised workers; unprotected datafication creates new economic inequalities that exploit new-found digital participation enabled by digital identities; and unfair barriers continue to exist for the marginalised under digital identity to voice ‘informed consent’ or to access redressal of security issues.

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