At this point in time, any mention of Aadhaar has the aam janata either freaking out over privacy issues or scratching their heads in bewilderment as to what it is now being linked with.
On Wednesday, a familiarly panicked slew of stories made their way to the pages of the main stream media. Only it was now about the need to link Aadhaar to marriage records. The Hindustan Times carried a piece titled “Link Aadhaar with marriage records: Law Commission suggests Centre”. Similar reports were carried in the Times of India, India Today, and Business Today explaining how the Law Commission ostensibly suggested linking Aadhaar to marriage certificates. Mirror Now conducted prime time debates with tickers that read “Centre mulls Aadhaar for Shaadi” and twitter saw the hashtag #AadhaarForShaadi trending.
These were based on a report published by the Law Commission of India on July 4, called “Compulsory Registration of Marriages”. The report was prepared under the leadership of retired Supreme Court judge, Justice BS Chauhan. Currently it is not legally mandatory to register marriages in the country. However, the Law Ministry had approached the Law Commission in February seeking their suggestion on if there was a need for a separate law for making registering marriages compulsory. In its report, the commission recommended that there was no need for a separate law and this could be included as an amendment under the current Births and Deaths Registration Act, 1969. The reason for documenting marriages was to prevent cases of bigamy, gender violence and child marriages.
However, the HT’s take away from this was that:
“The Law Commission of India has suggested the government could link the registration of marriages with Aadhaar ‘to achieve universal tracing of records’, apart from recommending their compulsory certification to prevent fraudulent marriages.”
It is possible that Aadhaar will help in tracking records, but… but… the 41-page report has no mention of the word “Aadhaar”! Not one!
The report does mention unique identification number but only once, in chapter seven, called “Feasibility of Information Technology-enabled registration”. Not just that, these are merely observations pertaining to UID, not suggestions.
The last line of the chapter says “Also, if registration of marriage is linked to the unique identification number (UID), it would be possible to achieve universal tracing of records,” which does not come under the any suggestion or recommendation made by the Law Commission. This was also pointed out by Supreme Court lawyer Prasanna S on twitter recently.
Speaking to Newslaundry, Prasanna said that the report had a separate section on recommendations and conclusions. Those are the definitive recommendations of the Law Commission. “Anything that goes before [the recommendations and conclusions] is a discussion of all the suggestions and all the measures that have been on the table and were discussed,” he said. He added that claiming that the Law Commission has recommended using Aadhaar for universal tracking of records is “patently incorrect”.
The report doesn’t mention Aadhaar as much as it presses for the need to register marriages the way births and deaths are. While ToI displayed significantly more diligence and their story referred to the actual report, also making a passing mention about UID, but it still failed to point out that these were not recommendations.
What news reports did miss out is that in many states, Aadhaar is mandatory for registering one’s marriage. “At one point, Aadhaar was mandatory for marriage registrations in Delhi, however, after a Supreme Court order, all those circulars and notifications were revised,” Prasanna told Newslaundry. “But I know instances where a couple went to register their marriage but they were told by the District Magistrate said that the software could not accept the registration until they got their Aadhaar.” Prasanna is perhaps referring to this case from 2015 where Ankita Anand and Nachiket Udupa document their experience in registering their marriage without an Aadhaar card.
In February this year, the Chief Information Commission had directed the government and other public authorities to “give widespread publicity thorough various media that Aadhaar is not mandatory for the purpose of marriage registration scheme and also make necessary changes for online application for solemnisation of marriage under Special Marriage Act”.
Besides, Delhi, according to this article from Medianama, Aadhaar is mandatory for marriages in Uttar Pradesh under the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955. However, after a SC order, all the states had to revise the orders and notifications about Aadhaar linkage with marriage certificates. Prasanna said that despite the order, many states still demanded Aadhaar to register marriages. It would seem that Aadhaar isn’t confusing to just us, even those supposedly in the know aren’t sure what it is or isn’t supposed to be linked with.
“For instance, there will be two contrary circulars where one will say that Aadhaar is compulsory and another circular will say in compliance with SC orders Aadhaar shall not be made mandatory. And lower level officers wouldn’t know what to comply with,” Prasanna offered.
The Law Commission’s suggestions aren’t without merit, but as Delhi-based lawyer Apar Gupta told Newslaundry, linking Aadhaar with marriage certificates was a blatant violation of the Aadhaar Act. “Section 2k of the Aadhar act says that it will not contain demographic information in the form of race religion, ethnicity etc, which is naturally also found in a marriage registration certificate because personal laws apply to it” Apar said. “When you build a centralised database which links the points of information with the Aadhaar number, then by itself, it overrides any kind of protection which was available under the Aadhaar act itself. Such points of information was previously not gathered,” he added.
Aadhaar is certainly perplexing, and how it works, the ways in which it will mesh with our lives has yet to be fully explored, but that’s no reason for us in the press to not do our due diligence and authoritatively declare the sky is falling with regards to all things Aadhaar.