Federalism and Identity Cards

By Lakshan Dias
[Social Justice Activists]

Sri Lankan State including government, opposition and the people as the segments, which hold the supremacy according to the 78 Constitution, are equally responsible for the negligence and the deliberate efforts to undermine the rights of the Tamil people. I come to the above conclusion, as I am disturbed by the way Tamil people are treated in the manner on their Identity and proof of identity. Up to some extend this is valid to Muslim people as well.

We read many newspaper articles very often about taking Tamil people in to detention from various parts of the country, in many cases the main accusation of such detentions are failed to prove their Identity. Living in a country which ” security ” is a household word and issue one can argue that it’s a valid reason to take some one in to detention. In the other hand the victim of the detention also has a story. In Sri Lankan State we have hundreds of thousand people who doesn’t have Identity cards due to various reasons. The issue also arises when parliament enacted compulsory Identity cards to the voters. The issue mainly arises on people who are with Indian origin popularly known as up country plantation community. If the is a failure of state including government, opposition and the people is it justifiable to penalise these people simply due to unavailability of their Identity cards under the Emergency regulations (ER). The Emergency Regulations do not empower the security authorities to arrest anybody without a justifiable reason. But in practise its is not happen even though there are supreme court orders on ER regulations and detention. On October 7, 2003, Sri Lanka’s 225-member Parliament set right an anomaly made five decades ago as a newly independent country. An otherwise divided polity stood as one to pass unanimously the “Grant of Citizenship to Persons of Indian Origin” initiated by then UNF government. But in practice hundreds of thousands people still does not posses an Identity card due to bureaucratic and governmental and procedural issues. An NGO, which tirelessly work for obtain Identity cards for People with Indian origin, were brought up some serious issues how these people were treated like slaves due to their identity cards issues. There were stories on how some cases the plantation authorities forcefully raped women by promising them an identity card. The same hardships and rights that they don’t enjoying and which state doesn’t provide became the cause of their detention, without doing any good for them.

The Issue of Identity Card is not a failure of the present government. It’s an issue that Singhalese mindset imposed to prove their hegemony over other people and continues for decades with out proper challenging. In many parts of the world the Identity cards printed in the national Languages of the country. Simple reason is that holder should know what they are holding and what is written in their identity card. Sri Lanka may be the only card that its people doesn’t know the language written in their Identity document. In Sri Lankan Identity card there is photo area, Sri Lanka in big words in Singhalese language and few other things in Singhalese language nothing on Tamil language. The constitution in its 13th Amendment says that Singhalese and Tamil are the official languages of the state and English is the link Language. Even after 20 years later still the state is unable to fulfil the above needs and this is not due to financial reasons but the majoriterian mindset and the hegemony of the Singhalese majority over the others.

If any one pulls their identity card from their purse or wallet they can now carefully analyse their identity card. See the front page unless if you are Singhalese and unless you know the language of Singhalese and unless you know how to read Singhalese language you have no idea of what has written there. You are totally ignorant on what’s indicated by that alien language to you as Tamil speaking and Tamil reading person. Is this acceptable? We are going ahead to complete twenty years from first experience of the federalism and beginning point of glimpse of federalism in 1987. The indo Lanka Accord and 13th Amendment brought Quasi federal system to the island for simple reason that is sharing of power and Regional autonomy. One important factor of that sharing of power document is sharing of the hegemony regionally and geographically and regional supremacy of the languages. Unfortunately after 20 years we are still at the squire-1. For last 10 years we are debating over federal system and, what kind of federal system and what are the pro and cons of the federal system while simple characteristic of sharing of power are still among the backlogs. After CFA I used to attend as a resource person in many seminars all over the country on federalism. And in all the seminars I brought this issue as a right of minorities. In many place in the discussion time participants raise the question that what else can we do. Singhalese is national language and therefore its fine to have it that way and even said that in India they use Hindi as the language for Identity cards without knowing that in India they don’t have proper identity cards system. The most hilarious argument that brought was on translation and according to them “if we are going to translate all these things in to two languages then the Identity cards increase its size to A4 paper”. These are true objections I heard. Ignorance they had is that they think identity is an integral part of state and they don’t know any system without Identity cards.

Second issue is Information and racial discrimination. Again if you area Tamil then you have to call your Singhalese friend for a tea and in a friendly manner both of you can compare your Identity cards. For your dismay you will find that even though you are equal citizens of this country two of you are treated in two ways. I am in a great puzzle over why the Tamil people are given two languages while I as Singhalese has only one language in my identity card. Personally as part of social justice activists I think it’s an injustice for me. As I have prevented to use Tamil language in my Identity card which I love to do. But for a Tamil person it’s a disgrace and shameful situation, as they were not given equal status. While majority community hold the Identity of one language Tamils of this county hold an identity card of Two language not only that a separate letter in alphabet which is different to Singhalese. As a Singhalese I hold an Identity card with V number and I have seen some Tamils find with X number as far as I know there is another letter as well. This was done more than 35 years ago and even around 5 years before the Sri Lankan civil war started. But after 35 years the whole thing has change in to security privilege. Moment the identity card carry two languages Security forces know the identity of the person and where is he comes from even without reading his or her name. The other hand Security forces are much happy to see that names was written in two languages and now they can read it without any efforts. Imagine if the Identity cards was written in one language either Tamil or Singalese then the security forces has to involve in extra efforts to read it or to be bi lingual. Its reasonable to think that Tamil people were discriminated deliberately and aggression is justifiable as discriminations are continue. Can this be change? The easiest way that government can escape from the issue is write all the identity cards in both languages as if they do it other way it will create big problem to predominantly monolingual Security forces. These are some simple looking but very serious issues. Why these differences what are the motives or rational behind these differences are only known to God or Gods.

Identity cards were started to issue from 1971 as far as I heard and the act was enacted in 1968 next year we are going to celebrate 40 years of Identity cards system. What does it contributed to our society instead of hatred, discrimination and prejudice is some thing we have to seriously consider. I am not impractical to says reject the identity cards its impossible or take time. But we can make it more equal and Just document instead of discriminatory. Below in the article I have inserted more information about how other countries looking at the Identity card and what the concerns of people. Even India which they introduce identity cards recently are undergoing various practical issues of implementing and practicing it. But hope they have started it good note and will over come many of these issues. I am again puzzle as why no body from Tamil community neither Singhalese community raised this matter in the judiciary. According to our constitution under the fundamental rights section there are very clear articles on right against discrimination based on political affiliation gender or ethnicity. This is very clear violation of those articles. Any one received national identity card for the first time can refuse to accept those and try to seek advice of judiciary on the matter. And its worth to get judicial review of this decade old indiscriminately practice.

The most interesting part is coming now. Please pull your identity card back. (I am sorry for troubling you). Now it says some thing important again in Singhalese. It says in small letters that this is according to act of parliament Registration of Persons act, No. 32 of 1968. Now we have to read Registration of Persons act, No. 32 of 1968. In 2002 few of us who are concerns persons including academies brought this issue in to discussion and one of our friend brought the act for our discussion. When we read the act we found that according to act the if government official intend to inspect the identity document then the holder of identify and the government official must agree on a date and meet in a official place. But it in the practice this is totally forgotten or government need to look. Some times we have to seek judiciary as these things are very unclear what the use of those laws. When I was harassed in Vavunia I filled a fundamental Rights case against the pass system in Vavunia (Lakshan Dias vs the Defence Secretary and others). What ever the results may be we have to see how can we start changes in this area of discrimination.

Unfortunately in our country identity become an issue of discriminatory nature and hegemonic expression over the ethnicities in the country and become a tool of dominance over the ethnic groups. Today In many parts of the world Identity cards are use as tool for security and governance even though it’s seriously disturbed privacy and freedom. We are moving towards the military states with democratic face in many parts of the world taking 9/11 as scapegoat and with the support of War against terror mechanism and concept. Countries of the powerful changing their states for military purposes and controlling systems and they are shameless to bring old and primitive systems such as finger prints back in to practice and its happening in very developed worlds. Even number plate systems of Sri Lanka are part of this large picture as if one carefully analyse can be find. Many of these things are not only fault of governments but we as state all equally responsible as we allow these things happen, and also an irreversible for centuries.

Lets week how the world looks at this through Internet.

In some countries where ID cards are required to show affiliation, this can lead to cases of discrimination. This can become a bureaucratic nightmare when a person changes his or her affiliation.

Identity (ID) cards are in use, in one form or another in numerous countries around the world. The type of card, its function, and its integrity vary enormously. Around a hundred countries have official, compulsory, national IDs that are used for a variety of purposes. Many developed countries, however, do not have such a card. Amongst these are the United States, Canada, New Zealand, Australia, Ireland, the Nordic countries and Sweden. Those that do have such a card include Germany, France, Belgium, Greece, Luxembourg, Portugal and Spain.

The use of sectoral (specific purpose) cards for health or social security is widespread, and most countries that do not have a national universal card, have a health or social security card (in Australia, the Medicare Card, in the United States, the Social Security number), or traditional paper documents of identity. The reverse is also true. In Sweden, while there exists a ubiquitous national number, there is no single official identity card. Generally speaking, particularly in advanced societies, the key element of the card is its number. The number is used as an administrative mechanism for a variety of purposes. In many countries the number is used as a general reference to link the cardholders activities in many areas.

An analysis of identity cards around the world reveals a number of interesting patterns. The most significant of these is that virtually no common law country has a card. Nor does the economic or political development of a country necessarily determine whether it has a card. Neither Mexico nor Bangladesh has an ID card. And, until this year, India had no card (even now, the card, strictly speaking, is a voter registration card rather than a national ID card). Generally speaking, however, the vast majority of developing countries have either an ID card system or a document system, often based on regional rather than national authorization.

In many countries, identification documents are being replaced by plastic cards, which are seen as more durable and harder to forge. Card technology companies are well organized to conduct effective promotion of their product, and companies have moved into the remotest regions of the world. Many Asian and African nations are replacing old documents with magnetic stripe or bar coded cards. A photo ID card from 1996 is also replacing the UK driver’s license. The change from one form of ID to another is invariably accompanied by a change to the nature and content of data on the document.

Generally speaking, yes. A Privacy International survey of ID cards found claims of police abuse by way of the cards in virtually all countries. Most involved people being arbitrarily detained after failure to produce their card. Others involved beatings of juveniles or minorities. There were even instances of wholesale discrimination on the basis of data set out on the cards.

While it is true that cards containing non-sensitive data are less likely to be used against the individual, cards are often alleged to be the vehicle for discriminatory practices. Police who are given powers to demand ID invariably have consequent powers to detain people who do not have the card, or who cannot prove their identity. Even in such advanced countries as Germany, the power to hold such people for up to 24 hours is enshrined in law. The question of who is targeted for ID checks is left largely to the discretion of police.

The wartime ID card used in the UK outlived the war, and found its way into general use until the early 1950s. Police became used to the idea of routinely demanding the card, until in 1953 the High Court ruled that the practice was unlawful. In a landmark ruling that led to the repealing of the National Registration Act, and the abandonment of the ID card, the Lord Chief Justice remarked:

The success of ID cards as a means of fighting crime or illegal immigration will depend on a discriminatory checking procedure that will target minorities.

The irony of the ID card option is that it invites discrimination by definition. Discriminatory practices are an inherent part of the function of an ID card. Without this discrimination, police would be required to conduct random checks, which in turn, would be politically unacceptable.

All discrimination is based on one of two conditions: situational or sectoral. Situational discrimination targets people in unusual circumstances. i.e. walking at night, visiting certain areas, attending certain functions or activities, or behaving in an abnormal fashion. Sectoral discrimination targets people having certain characteristics i.e. blacks, youths, skinheads, motorcycle riders or the homeless. ID cards containing religious or ethnic information make it possible to carry this discrimination a step further – Courtesy: Wikipedia.

Contact: lakshandias@yahoo.co.uk

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