For Abida Begum (20), a homeless woman who makes Rs 100 a day washing clothes in the untidy sprawl of Delhi's Nizamuddin Basti, India's Unique Identity (UID) project will, hopefully, stop constant police probing and harassment.
She held up a "Beghar", or homeless, card issued to her by the Delhi government after her fingerprints, iris and photo were scanned into what will be India's largest repository of identity.
"Now, with this card, I can show them who I am, and I can shut them away," said Abida, who came with her mother to a night shelter where the UID Authority of India, or AadhaaR, has set up a centre.
Reaching and recording the existence of India's million homeless — so they can access government programmes — will be AadhaaR's greatest challenge. It was formally launched by Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit from Nizamuddin Basti on October 2 to coincide with the birthday of Mahatma Gandhi, the man who cared most for the destitute.
AadhaaR and Delhi government officials are now trawling shelters where the homeless gather to spend their nights.
The homeless seem interested. The women because they get official recognition and proof that they officially exist, the men because there are prospects of opening a bank account with their UID number.
Official findings reveal that most homeless have both work and money.
Mohammed Ibrahim (50), a migrant construction worker from Kanpur, earns R200 to
R250 a day. His problem, similar to others like him, is where to keep the money when he sleeps in a park.
Ibrahim has been depositing his money, whatever amount he manages to save every week, with the local paan vendor to keep it safe.
“I am told that I can open a bank account with the card (number) given. We were unable to open one, all this time, because I could not give proof of address or who I am,” said Ibrahim, who's been living in the Capital for more than 10 years.
None of the dozen-odd people gathered at the centre, have the faintest idea of AadhaaR's larger targets — reform of the Public Distribution System (PDS) or reforming government. What they do like is that things are moving along quicker than they have ever seen.
"We applied for a ration card three years back but got it only a few days ago," said Kulsum Begum (35), Ibrahim's wife, as she admired her homeless card. "These people (NGOs who assist AadhaaR) met us less than three months ago and now we have this identity."
The card, which serves as provisional identity is a precursor to the UID number, which they will receive in three weeks after their data is processed in Bangalore.
The Delhi Government's Mission Convergence and NGOs adopted practices such as rickshaw campaigns, folk songs and street plays (nukkads) to approach and collect details simultaneously with the National Population Register (NPR) inputs.
To address the question of identity, UIDAI linked the coordinators of Homeless Resource Centres, night shelter and NGOs involved in the survey as introducers for enrolment during the biometric stage - who also submit their biometrics along with every person they introduce.
"From enrolling during the nights to introduction through co-coordinators, we are adopting every practical way to make the process fool proof. With initial experiences showing us the way to evolve, we are also on a learning curve," said UIDAI Deputy Director General K Ganga, who was supervising the enrolment at the centre.
Smriti (who goes by one name), project manager, Mother NGO for Homeless, St Stephen's Hospital who has been involved in the survey said the estimate of the homeless in the city is more than one lakh.
"Till now, we have identified 40,000 people whom we are issuing the 'Beghar' cards and UID enrolment. We will finish the survey of the remaining 60,000 by December," she said.
The project is also providing job to students like Pramod Kumar, a BA final year student trained under UIDAI module and employed as operator for the devices by ILFS, the enrolling agency under Mission Governance (Govt. of Delhi) - the registrar.