New digital ID in Indian Kashmir raises concerns over surveillance

4 days ago 24

SRINAGAR, India - University student Mehak is used to frequent identification checks by security forces and officials in the northern Indian city of Srinagar, and always carries two forms of ID. Soon, she may need to carry yet another in her purse.

Plans for a new family ID in Jammu and Kashmir have caused confusion and irritation among many residents like Mehak, while rights campaigners fear the programme could lead to increased surveillance and data hacks in the disputed Himalayan region.

“Families already use their ID cards if they need to access any social welfare programmes. So why is this required?,” said Mehak, 22, who asked that her last name be withheld.

Regional authorities have said the JK Family ID, an eight-digit code assigned to each household, would improve access to social welfare benefits such as subsidised food grains.

It means families will not have to apply for benefits under various schemes, as eligibility decisions will be automated based on the data, said Prerna Puri, a commissioner in Kashmir’s information technology department.

Across India, the government is undertaking a massive digitisation push, including of health records, property titles, railway bookings and utility payments, as part of the Digital India programme aimed at better governance.

In Indian Kashmir, some see the new family IDs as part of a campaign to exert greater control over residents.

The Indian government led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi withdrew Kashmir’s autonomous status in 2019, and split the former state into two federal territories, aiming to tighten its grip on the Muslim-majority region.

Kashmir residents are right to be wary of the government’s motives, said Angad Singh Khalsa, an independent human rights campaigner, as they have been singled out before for greater surveillance on the grounds of national security.

“Even if the government intends to provide us with benefits by creating these new IDs, their authoritarian treatment towards the people of Jammu and Kashmir has made us doubt their intentions,” he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

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