Sunday, December 11, 2011

A Study of Eight Cities

A Times of India-IMRB survey on the Quality of Life in eight major cities in India has been published today (ToI, 11 Dec, pp. 16-17) . The cities are Ahmedabad, Pune, Delhi, Mumbai, Bangalore, Hyderabad, Chennai and Kolkata.  Here is the link:

ToI - IMRB Survey on Quality of Life in 8 Indian Cities, 2011

There are some aspects of this survey that I found problematic. I'm not talking at this stage about the findings, because those are entirely dependent on the aspect of the survey with which I did have a problem, which is the methodology.

1. Sampling:

a. Layman sample: IMRB polled "roughly 150 respondents" from socio-economic categories A and B, in a 65:35 ratio in each of the eight cities. The respondents were "from age 18 onwards", and "the two genders were roughly equally represented".

b. Expert sample: ToI asked the same questions that had been asked to the layman sample, to 30 people in each of these cities "who track living conditions in them".

1a. About the layman sample: According to the Census of India, any town with a population of above a lakh of people (>1,00,000) is called a city. As per the provisional totals of the Census on India 2011, here are the populations of the municipal corporations of the cities covered by the ToI-IMRB survey:

  • Ahmedabad: (approx) 55 lakhs
  • Pune: (") 31 lakhs
  • Delhi: (") 1.1 crore
  • Mumbai: (") 1.25 crore
  • Bangalore: (") 84 lakhs
  • Hyderabad: ('') 68 lakhs
  • Chennai: (") 46 lakhs
  • Kolkata: (") 44 lakhs
It is to be noted that these are the provisionals of only that population covered by the city municipal corporations. At least two cities in the list above are in fact much larger than the area covered by the municipality. 

The point of sampling is representation, and in the case of our quite heterogeneous cities, a fairly complex challenge. Divisions have to be marked, parameters of representativeness drawn up. This requires knowledge of, and some access to diverse quarters of the city, and is certainly not accomplished by administering a questionnaire to 150 people, of any description. A net total of 150 people in an Indian city does not possibly represent even the number of people taking a bus from a single city bus-stop during morning rush hour during a single day. 

Now, the kind of people. SEC A and B, in a proportion of 65:35. This means the questionnaire was administered to about 97 individuals who were SEC A men or women, and 38 individuals who were SEC B men or women, in each city. SEC categories for demographic stratification are widely used in commercial research, including that for retail and media. Here's what they mean:

Since IMRB focuses on commercial sector research, it may be safe to assume that this is the manner in which SEC has been used, in the ToI-IMRB survey. This means that the data on which the survey is based has been collected from a very small number of the most elite people in eight quite heterogenous, more-than-quite-large, Indian cities. Only in the most imaginative sense can this exercise be called sampling.

1b. Expert Sample: This component, carried out by ToI, asked 30 people who track living conditions in a city to fill the same questionnaire.

But who are these people? What makes them experts? Why should I, as the reader of a survey, be asked to accept that these are credible experts in the sub-areas of urban development and governance, in whatever fashion? Are they, for example, associated with real estate or computers? the law? politics? are they senior, or junior bureaucrats? traders? social work? Different people watch the changing city in different ways, and it is the responsibility of the methodology of a survey to take into account these differences.

Sampling strategies will hugely influence what you find from research, and this effect is stronger with an expert sample, because of the significant role of expert opinion. Anyhow, not to even display a list of criteria for the expert sample, which is quite large relative to the layman sample (1:5), is just shoddy research.

2. Data Analysis

The data gathered from the sample discussed above was then subjected to some analysis. The methodology mentions factor analysis, regression analysis and average scores.

2.1 Regression analysis: Regression analysis demands, at the very least, a dependent variable and an independent variable. It is intended to point out a definite direction in causality: hypothetically, if a variable (say, social infrastructure) is low, then another, connected to it (say, environment) must also be affected in a certain way. It is to know such interconnections between variables that regression or correlation analysis is performed.
An understanding of the manner in which, say, 'peace of mind' is linked to 'leisure facilities', or 'social infrastructure' would be a very interesting result of this survey. But since this information is not available, I am not sure what this putative regression analysis was intended to perform.

2.2 Factor analysis: I would have really liked more detail on the factor analysis. I would, for example, have liked to know how important the perceived quality of schooling, or college, is to the rank achieved by a city. They do present some information that shows the relative importance of their seven major parameters to overall ranking. But this is a problematic procedure and these scores can hardly be added up to score overall rankings across cities.

2.3. Average Scores: This, I think, is the one procedure that has been accurately followed in the survey. The averages may be for 150+30=180, very elite people per city, but they are correct, in that.

This survey is conducted by the Times of India and the Indian Market Research Bureau, both vast organizations with proportionate resources. We have, in this country dense, diverse, vibrant cities.

Is this the best that can be done by way of mapping them?

Thursday, December 08, 2011

Communicating Slutwalk

The scheduled slutwalk at Bangalore was cancelled earlier this week. Since slutwalk seeks to promote the safety of women on the streets, it is a matter of concern that this would be cancelled in an Indian city, especially for the reasons provided by the Bangalore police. Police spokespeople said that they would be unable to guarantee the safety of the marchers, and so were not in a position to allow the march to proceed as planned.

Now Bangalore has unfortunately become the stomping grounds of ultra-conservative right-wing factions like the Sri Ram Sene, and the police have cause to be nervous about possible acts of violence. But looking over the press reports of the slutwalk held in Delhi earlier this year, I can't help thinking that this particular cancellation has more to do with language, context and appropriateness, than with the walk itself.

Held in July, Delhi's slutwalk was largely an offenceless affair, from the moral conservative point of view. It consisted of women dressed in ordinary clothing, expressing concern about the capital's streets, carrying banners, posters and other signs making the points that they "love consent", that their "short skirt has nothing to do with you", and that "the way a woman dresses is not an invitation to sexual assault."

It was, however, called a 'slutwalk'. Slut, as popularly understood in India, means sexworker. So 'slutwalk' literally means the march of the sexworkers. Contextualized in a culture in which boys and girls still find it difficult to meet and engage in regular conversation without being harassed by policemen and other enforcers of the great moral brigade, this term takes on a different meaning than it did in Toronto, where the slutwalk was instituted. In this country, a putative march of the sexworkers is constructed in the male public imagination as an occasion for voyeurism and worse, which was why so many men turned out to watch the walk. Most went away when faced with the regular women (and men) who showed up, in lieu of the promised spectacle. 

A name can be a promise. You hear 'National Gallery of Modern Art', and an image floats in front of your eyes. It may not be the NGMA building as it stands at India Gate, but you put together several contiguous concepts, and get a large building, possibly important looking, containing abstract and figurative art. Say 'chopsticks', or 'the black hole of Calcutta', or 'estuary', and images will float up at you, images that you more or less expect to be related to actuality when you behold the real thing. 

Going by this logic, when you say 'slutwalk', you provide for a certain kind of expectation, with a measure of titillation, and possible gratification thrown in. This effect would be intensified by the manner in which 'slutwalk' was translated in Hindi: 'besharmi morcha' (march of the shameless). 

Now, if you wanted regular women with regular lives to be safe on the streets, why would you call an event marking this entirely reasonable demand a march of the shameless? Why would you do this particularly in Delhi, which has the highest reported sexual crime in the country? When this fact is pointed out to Delhi politicians and bureaucrats, they retort that women just need to take better care of themselves and not venture out at night. Why, if you are demanding women's human rights and safely, would you designate them sluts on a besharmi morcha? In patriarchal India, in ultra-patriarchal Delhi. It just makes no communicative sense to me at all.

At least it didn't, until I figured out that this phenomenon may be a combination of two factors that seem to have become endemic in India's big cities: 
First, that the elite of these spaces imagine that they do not live in India at all, but in some unnamed location that seems to me to be an amalgamation of several western soaps, with 'Friends' topping the list. In the world of 'Seinfeld', or the 'OC', or 'Desperate Housewives', a slutwalk would be a fun thing, with few socio-cultural consequences. It would be wonderful if that were true here, but it is clearly not.
Second, that many of the people organizing the slutwalk probably do not use public transport for a lack of options. In other words, these people do not stand at bus-stops late at night on a regular basis, waiting for a transport home from the late shift. Naturally, then, such experience is not a factor taken into account when they propose to call a demand for women's safety a 'slutwalk'.

The point I am trying to make is that a call for the safely of women should be just that, and should also ideally try to be as inclusive as possible. A name is more than a name, and when a name actively seeks to position an event in a particular manner, this says something about the choice, and the choosing of that name.

About Bangalore. Even with the Sri Ram Sene and their ilk, would the police have refused protection to a march for women's safety that was called 'a march for women's safety'? Perhaps even something a little more scintillating would have passed muster. But march of the sexworkers? 

Please, if the safety of women is indeed the concern, let us re-evaluate strategy in the light of communicative appropriateness. 

Sunday, December 04, 2011

Bless NPR

"The Jazz 100 is a crowdsourced list of the most quintessential jazz of all time, determined by the listeners of and NPR Music." Thanks, Urmi.

Public Radio rocks.