According to WikiLeaks spokesperson Jacob Appelbaum, the Aadhaar program is likely to “create a digital caste system because going by the way it is now being implemented, if you choose not to be part of the system, you will be the modern-day equivalent of an outcast. In theory, you are supposed to have the freedom to choose but in reality, the choice will only be whether to be left out or left behind.”84 There are already reports of citizens being denied welfare services, including children unable to receive school lunches when their Aadhaar could not be authenticated.85 In this way the New Jim Code gives rise to digital untouchables.
Although the Aadhaar Act of 2016 says that the UID is voluntary, it makes digital identity such “an integral part of every aspect of being a resident/citizen of the country”86 that it can be said to produce illegality rather than screen for it. As Appelbaum notes, “not having Aadhaar would effectively be a criminal offence because it would turn perfectly law-abiding, tax-paying citizens into non-compliant ones on account of not having been able to pay one’s taxes.”87 Aadhaar critics warn that the initiative will further harm the most vulnerable: “Naturally, women, Dalits, transgenders, religious and sexual minorities, who are anyway part of vulnerable and marginalised groups, would be far more susceptible to state policing of bodies and possible discrimination via Aadhaar than upper caste Hindu men, simply because the latter’s entrenched privileges will ensure the least surveillance for themselves.”88 Famed Indian writer Arundhati Roy has criticized the program as a “containment technique … perhaps one of the most ambitious and expensive information gathering projects in the world” and as an ill-conceived investment, given more pressing priorities:
People don’t have clean drinking water, or toilets, or food, or money, but they will have election cards and UID numbers. Is it a coincidence that the UID project … will inject massive amounts of money into a slightly beleaguered IT industry? To digitize a country with such a large population of the illegitimate and “illegible” – people who are for the most part slum dwellers, hawkers, Adivasis without land records – will criminalize them, turning them from illegitimate to illegal.
Even as cases of Aadhaar data being hacked or sold make their way through Indian courts, an Indian finance minister suggested that adding DNA data into the biometric mix may actually be next.