Citizens rush to Aadhaar centers to change typographical and spelling errors

BENGALURU: Citizens from all over India queue outside Aadhaar correction centers, worried over whether minor errors and spelling mistakes in their Aadhaar will affect their citizenship status. UIDAI officials said that misinformation on social media through erroneous WhatsApp forwards is leading citizens to believe Aadhaar could be taken as proof of citizenship.

A DGU from UIDAI says: Centers in many parts of India: South, Northeast, North and Central India are seeing citizens requesting corrections. Our helpline numbers have also been packed with queries. It would be difficult to quantify how many more people have visited our centers compared to last week. Generally, we collect data on registrations, corrections made monthly. UIDAI did not officially respond to an email seeking comment.

With thousands of Indians having minor typos or difference between name and address details in varying documents like PAN card, Voter ID, Aadhaar card, UIDAI officials said misinformation is leading to confusion on the ground. To clarify UIDAI officials said, Aadhaar is proof of identity and proof of address, not citizenship. Officials pointed to a Ministry of Electronics and Communication circular and Aadhaar Act 2016 regulations, which state, “Aadhaar is not intended to replace any existing identity cards, nor does it constitute proof of citizenship. Aadhaar neither confers citizenship nor guarantees rights, benefits, or entitlements.

In Bangalore, standing in line to get her Aadhaar corrected is 30-year-old Sunitha Subedi, an Indian whose parents are of Nepali origin. A construction worker in Attibele, who gets paid Rs 180 a day, she skipped work on Monday to travel 32 km to the city to get her date of birth corrected. My inlaws advised me to get it changed or I'd be sent back to Nepal, she says. Standing with her in line is a 23-year-old delivery agent from Chitoor, Andhra Pradesh, who is trying to get his phone number changed on Aadhaar. The earlier number I had - belonged to my earlier office, a courier agency. Then I changed jobs and they retained the SIM, he says, adding he was wary of giving his name.

Equally worried is a well-established Kolkata-based resident, who is 65-years-old and has double Masters degree in English literature from St Xaviers. The year of birth is incorrect in his Aadhaar. But correct in all other documents like passport and voter ID. So now we are trying to get it fixed, says 34-year-old Aliya (name changed), his daughter, who is an ex-journalist. My dad doesn't have a birth certificate. He doesn't know if he was born at home or in a hospital. Adding to his paranoia is the fact that his father is from Pakistan and chose to stay back in India during partition. We've seen government statements that Aadhaar, voter ID and passport cannot be taken as proof of citizenship, but we still want all our documents in order, she says.

In this milieu, UIDAI officials say there are two sets of people. Some people are unaware and genuinely believe Aadhaar is proof of citizenship. Others are highly educated; have read government statements and yet feel the more documents - the more secure they are. So they are trying to compile a long list, which includes a 100% accurate Aadhaar card, says a UIDAI official.

Awareness among people is high: citizens strive to verify in government offices. The domestic employee, Aorti Das (53), who works in Kolkata, has in her hand a list of all the documents that were considered proof in the Assam NRC exercise. She comes from Canning, which is an hour's journey by train from Kolkata. Know that land certificates, university or school board certificates, SCI policies, bank statements, etc. They can be taken as evidence. But he doesn't have many of these documents, so he runs from one pillar to another to make sure that the few documents he has are perfect. Now he is trying to correct some typographical errors in his address, says his employer Kumar Shankar Roy (37).

Ellumalai Venkatesan, who works at an Aadhaar enrollment center of a private bank in Bengaluru says, We are getting queries about biometric mismatches. Earlier, a biometric mismatch didn't bother the middle-class; only poor people ensured biometrics were updated as they needed Aadhaar for getting direct benefit transfer (DBTs). But now we see middle-class bank customers to check and update their biometrics.

There is panic. I saw people queuing outside Aadhaar centers in the Seemanchal area (Purnia), Bihar at 2 in the morning. Sleep during the night to be first in line when the center opens at 9 am the next day, says Kannan Gopinathan, who retired from the ISS because of the Kashmir blockade.

Untouched by violence, deep in the South too people fear the NRC exercise. For instance, take the case of 74-year-old Selvi Raghupati, a resident of Mylapore, Chennai. Her name has been mis-spelt as Selvi Raghupathi in Aadhaar with an additional H, when her real name is Selvi Raghupati as in her Voter ID. With a recently amputed foot from diabetes, domestic helper Selvi has been unable to go for work this month and worries over whether her foot will heal in time for making changes at the Aadhaar center. I am seeing violence on television and its horrific, she says.

Activists say the conflicting statements of elected representatives, government officials and recent frequent CAA questions published by unidentified government sources are causing a lot of tension. There is so much anguish. People are very sick if their documents prove to be sufficient. On each issue, this government has failed to clarify things or facilitate the lives of citizens, said Santa Khurai (34), a transgender activist from Imphal, Manipur. .

With more than 2,000 transgender members excluded from the Assam NRC, Khurai says, transgenders might be disproportionately affected - say if the family had disowned them or they faced violence at home - how will they go back and get required documents? Or if there is gender mismatch between documents? But again, the CAA-NRC Aadhaar issue is not about transgenders, women or any one marginalized section. This is affecting all of Manipur and all of India.

Data experts also point to the human cost involved - saying if in future Aadhaar was accepted as proof then if the error rate was even 1% it is millions of Indians who might potentially get disenfranchised. We know data entry error rate is very high on Aadhaar ranging from date of births to official names - forget the authenticity of information. We have seen it as PAN- Aadhaar linkage mismatches as well. Even if you claim 1-2% Aadhaar cards in India, it still means 13-26 million Indians have to stand in queues to rectify it, said Anivar Aravind, cybersecurity expert and executive director, Indic Project, a private tech firm.