LEPER DENIED PENSION FROM COLDHEARTED GOVERNMENT
The modern world is amazing. New tech makes our lives easier and better every day. At least, we need tech to make our lives better. But what about when bureaucracy takes new tech and makes your life worse? That’s exactly what happened to a woman in India, this leper denied social services. India’s massive biometric database, Aadhaar, requires fingerprints and iris scans. But one woman named Begum lost her eyes, hands and feet to leprosy. But Aadhaar doesn’t care and has locked Begum out of her pension. She is a leper denied help, for the very reason she needs help.
PENSIONS TIED TO BIOMETRIC DATABASE, NO FINGERS NO PENSION
Begum’s is a cautionary tale. Aadhaar means foundation. It’s been actively collecting biometric data since 2009. It has 1.17 billion users in the system. It assigns 12-digit codes for every person, tied to scans of the iris and fingerprints. Aadhaar tracks and administers every person living and working in India. Aadhaar is also now responsible for many subsidies such as pensions and funding for the disabled and elderly. The accounts are accessible, but only thru Aadhaar.
INDIAN GOVERNMENT DENIED REQUEST FOR HELP
So where does that leave Begum? She has no hands or eyes to access the system. The system locked Begum out of her own government bank accounts. She can’t get her disability funding because of her disability! Begum even found an ally in Dr. Ayub Ali Zai. He is the admin medical officer where Begum has lived for years. Zai wrote a letter to the Indian government. He asked that they exempt Begum from the biometric requirements. The letter also went to The Indian Express. But the Indian government denied the public request.
HEALTHCARE COSTS AN ARM AND A LEG
Not only did the Indian government deny the request, a bureaucrat’s cold and stupid response was the official one. “Even if the woman doesn’t have sight, there may be biometrics that the machine can read,” an official replied. “Only when the machine is unable to read and they get a rejection letter, it can be considered at the back end. There are cases where leprosy patients have got Aadhaar with whatever is left of their biometrics.”
AADHAAR IS HUGE BIOMETRIC DATABASE
There are two major concerns here. First, this is a classic case of where we don’t want the future to go. But that future is already here. Tech can only help as much as it is carefully considered and used. Creating a biometric requirement that everyone can’t use is official cruelty. Exceptions must have rules for access, too. Bad things happen to people. People lose their eyes and fingers. Sometimes they lose more.
LEPROSY STILL A THREAT TO PUBLIC HEALTH
Second, roughly 200,000 people contract leprosy every year in India. That’s 1.6 million lepers since Aadhaar began in 2009. India might want to consider another way. They need to find a way for the leper population to access this vital public system. Aadhaar might to a great job identifying the fluid migrant worker population. But it betrays India’s most vulnerable citizens.
With the international coverage, Begum’s case is “being looked into,” according to one Treasury official. That just leaves 199,999 other people, this year alone, to be looked into. India’s biometric database is growing. India’s policies need to, too.