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

– University of Manchester

While Aadhaar identity and the data-flow it enables has become critical in enabling digital participation of informal workers, this new paper by the Global Development Institute argues that digital identity is intimately related to inequality experienced by urban marginalized groups

This paper by the University of Manchester explores experiences of Aadhaar among two groups of informal workers in an Indian urban setting - cab-drivers and domestic workers.

Author Shyam Krishna states:

“Aadhaar – India’s national biometric digital identity program through its unique 12-digit number for every Indian resident – has been intricately linked to daily aspects of living in recent years.”

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.

Krishna takes readers through assorted literature on identification and datafication, surveillance and recognition, and abnormal justice, before presenting the findings from more than 40 interviews.

“Based on this evidence base, the paper provides two contributions,” Krishna explains. “First, it presents a novel theoretical lens of social justice by operationalizing ‘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.”