Surveyor Series I

Posted by on Aug 7, 2014 in Blog, Surveyor Series | No Comments

Surveyor Series is a dedicated blog space where team members who enter slums to collect data can share their individual stories. There is a disconnect between the information that makes it onto our formal survey sheets and the stories that the field surveyors hear and experience firsthand. When these conversations are consolidated and compressed into the cells of a spreadsheet, the complete richness and reality of life in a slum can get lost. These nuances, often the invisible signs of poverty, remain with the surveyors The purpose of surveyor interviews is two fold–to integrate the field experience with the data collected, and to provide a platform for the surveyors to share individual stories.. There is a gap in knowledge and experience, that can only be filled by those who actually go out and collect information through conversations. When these conversations are consolidated and compressed into cells in an excel sheet, many parts of the story cannot fit and are left out. These parts, often the invisible signs of poverty, remain with the surveyors.


Selvam and Kartik

Selvam and Kartik have been working on the current surveyor team for less than two months, but already demonstrate great knowledge about field work. The two young men come from different academic backgrounds, Selvam from computer science and Kartik from commerce, but share a common interest in stories and history. Prior to their first field visit, both received training on understanding and using the the neighborhood survey. It is P2P’s preliminary tool to record a general overview of an area, and it contains questions about the condition of public services, historical background and demographics, land and home rights, government status and involvement, and community organizations.

Other than memorizing the questionnaire, the field team is taught how to ask questions and get answers. The neighborhood surveys are unique;  they are less about peoples’ personal lives and more about their community. Some topics like castes, land title deeds, and local leaders are sensitive. Unless the survey questions are asked properly, they can lead to dismissive,deceptive and even violent responses. Kartik notes that the skills for handling sensitive topics are perfected only through experience. During his visit to a slum called Bhangarappa Nagar, he noticed that the left of the area had received Hakku Patras or land ownership papers. However,the two thousand homes on the right  side were living on private land without Hakku Patras and were being sued for eviction by the land owner.

Kartik: …when we went to the right side and asked about the case, the people said there was no such thing as a case for their land. When I asked the same question to the left side, the respondent told me that there is an ongoing case on the right side, but he didn’t know the name. So the next person I found to interview on the right side, I did a little acting and said “some other guy just told us all about the case and he said some name, I forgot, it’s in my notes somewhere, what case is it again?” Hearing this, the man responded “yes sir the man who put the case, his name is Goramma” The first respondent may not have given us the answer, but I pretended like he had, to get the information from the second respondent.

Many communities that have been illegally squatting (living) on railroad, military, or privately owned land, even for decades, can be evicted permanently. People are very careful and suspicious while answering questions related to land rights since they can’t be sure about what their answers could lead to. To stress that they mean no harm , the field members always introduce themselves as students from college conducting research for an exam or a project. However,they are not always convincing.

Selvam:…an elder in Kalasipalayam wanted to know who we were, and without ID cards he didn’t believe that we were students. We could have been guys who were going to demolish the area. Many times, people from government or from privates come and frighten people that they will destroy. The people get scared that we are also coming to destroy their homes. So he hit Vinayak here [pointed to his head], hit me here [pointed to his back] and Naveenkumar here [pointed to his shoulder].

When asked if he was scared to conduct surveys after the incident, Selvam calmly said that he wasn’t. He just hopes they can all get student ID cards somehow to reduce the risk of another assault.  Even though he doesn’t feel like this job is difficult for him, he stresses that it can be for women.

Selvam: They can’t take so many risks.  For example, there’s Kalasipalayam market right? There will be a lot of rowdy guys hanging around. That is risky because you don’t know what they will do to girls. If it’s us, we can manage. But if ladies go to those kind of areas, it’s tough.

The field teams have felt threatened or unwelcome inside communities many times because the locals don’t trust outsiders. Since respondents are not being compensated or helped directly by answering the survey, it is an impossible task to fill the surveys correctly and completely. The dangers involved with the job and the level of experience necessary before becoming good at this job, make the members of the survey team very valuable assets.

By Madhu Ganesh

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