#Aadhaar Activists Notebook: In defense of Shyam Divan

Or why Shyam Divan is a hero for me, and should be a hero for you too

I met some of my friends yesterday. The discussions turned to Aadhaar. And I started telling about the great work shyam divan is doing.

They wereskeptical and raised several points against him that I felt lost. It seemed very reasonable at that point. And I had no counter arguments to make. To be honest I was shaken. I kept quiet. I didn’t exactly concede. Instead I gently steered the discussion to other areas.

But I was also worried. That’s an understatement. I was depressed. After all I considered divan a hero.

So after I went home I got into a conference call with fellow Aadhaar activists and I told them the arguments my friends raised. They listened to me calmly and patiently and tutored me on how to take on such criticism.

I will share the lesson I learnt so you can use it if you are put into such situation.

There were three arguments against divan. And for each there are solid counter arguments.


1. Divan is arguing for tax evaders and fraudsters who are gaining from the existing system. These tax evaders, fraudsters and crooks will lose hundreds of crores of rupees if government forces everyone to link Aadhaar to pan card and bank accounts. They can no longer evade taxes. They can no longer gain from the loopholes in the existing system. They can no longer fool the government, honest tax paying citizens. So they engaged divan to argue for them to strike down Aadhaar. So divan is basically following his masters orders. You can say nazis sent millions of Jews to concentration camp and gas chambers because of their ideologies and beliefs but divan is worse because he is doing it just for money.

Response :

Its a stupid argument. And we can counter it this way.

First, you can never establish a direct connection between tax evaders and Shyam Divan because Shyam Divan is not an idiot to leave paper trails. He will be using some innocent but compliant person or instition to file the petition. So when someone raises this question ask them to prove it. They can’t prove it, because there will be no evidence.

Second, point out that everyone deserves a fair trial and it is the job of an advocate to argue for the clients. Even Kasab who unleashed terror in Mumbai had a lawyer defending him. Nazis might have killed millions of Jews but they too had a lawyer defending them. You should not blame the lawyer who argues for them. He is just doing his job. And you should not blame Shyam Divan for taking money and arguing for tax evaders, crooks and fraudsters. As a lawyer, it’s his job to argue for such people, even if it causes harm to honest citizens of the country.


2. Divan is trying to scuttle a system that promises better life for millions of poor and downtrodden, by using the stories of a few people who are losing out in the transition. Instead of helping the few, he is using their stories to stop millions of people from getting a better life. Yes, a few hundred lost ration because of Aadhaar, but lakhs of people got included because of Aadhaar. A few middle class people lost lpg cylinder but lakhs of additional poor people got lpg and were saved from their smoky kitchens. Aadhaar has ensured money went straight to accounts of people who were not getting it before because it got swindled by middleman. So divan is denying wellbeing to millions of people


It’s again a stupid argument.

Only those who don’t feel the pain of hunger will make this argument. It is immoral to accept a system that is imperfect. Aadhaar might help 95% of poor. But what about 100s who are left out. (My friends told me to use the percentage figures whenever I talk about benefits of Aadhaar and use absolute numbers whenever I talk about the negative impact. So, only 99% of the population was benefitted by Aadhaar. But 110 people were harmed. People always fall for it. And we get what we want.)

Let’s get real. So, millions of poor people who were suffering before and are better off today because of Aadhaar. Good for them. But they should sacrifice their benefits from Aadhaar for a bigger cause and to get a perfect system. Independence was achieved by sacrifice of millions of people. The poor should remember that. It’s morally wrong for the poor to embrace an imperfect system just because it helps them. They should think of people who are losing out. The numbers might be few. But, it’s a fact that they are losing out.

The poor people have waited for the last 60 years. Why can’t they wait for 60 more? We can then say we have a perfect system. Let us agree that Aadhaar is not a perfect system.


Divan has a regressive view on bodily integrity. He believes that if someone takes a photograph of your finger prints or iris it is like violating your body. It is the same mindset that made a paternalistic society impose restrictions on women. The regressive men feel that if a stranger looks at a woman her bodily integrity is compromised. So they force women to cover themselves in a burkah. His arguments in the court is just a stepping stone for repressing women. If he convinces the court today that a photograph of fingers is a bodily violation — it will set a precedent for others to argue that women should not go out because their bodily integrity will go.


As a woman I personally agreed with this argument and it is difficult for me to argue in favor of a man who wants to dictate how I should define my bodily integrity.

Many of my fellow women activists agreed with me. But men were reluctant. They tried to convince me that I’m doing a slippery slope. And Indian courts will never permit repression on women. I cited Shah Bhano case, I cited martial rape case and told them im not so convinced.

The point I was missing was that Aadhaar is the bigger battle today. We first have to win Aadhaar and then we can fight feminist battle.

That’s also the lesson I learnt from studying politics.

Get good allies. Use them to fight.

So, after the Aadhaar case is won, I will fight divan.

I will fight his regressive attitude towards women’s freedom.

But for now, Shyam Divan is my hero.