Getting counted

So I got counted yesterday. And my caste was also noted. This was part of the caste census that is being currently conducted by the state government. I had a few pertinent observations on the questions and procedure, so thought I should write them down here.

  • The survey team consisted of a man and a woman. I wonder if the gender combination of the surveyors was chosen deliberately, in order to avoid awkwardness in either direction depending upon who opens the doorbell.
  • Anyway, the man seemed to be the senior person and didn’t speak much. The woman had an extraordinarily large “exam pad” (of A2 size if I’m not wrong), with a sheaf of papers where she would note down the answers.
  • So after “normal details” such as names and address, the survey proceeded directly to the caste. “Do I have to answer that?”, I asked. They said I didn’t have a choice. I told them and the lady noted it down. Then I was asked about my subcaste. I again asked if I should answer. The woman said yes, but the man overruled and they moved on.
  • There were other demographic questions involved, which I don’t remember answering during the “general census” four years ago. Stuff like the age at which we got married and the age at which we joined school.

    Anyone who can get their hands on the raw data can have a field day looking at the correlations. Like – what is the distribution of age of marriage by caste? etc.

  • The questionnaire was a pretty long one. A cursory search indicates there are a total of 55 questions. I was also asked about household assets. “How many TVs?” “One” “How many computers?” “Hmm.. Five”. “Laptops?” “I already counted them among computers” and so on.
  • I got asked about my family income also. Now you can see that all this data along with caste can be used to form some interesting correlations.
  • And it doesn’t stop there. This is the first time in a census that I’ve been asked for an identity proof. “We want both voter ID card and Aadhaar”, the lady said. I showed our voter IDs, and she noted down the number. Remember that this is a “caste census”? You know where this might be going now. I told them I couldn’t find my Aadhaar, and they said it was okay.
  • As the lady ploughed through the multiple pages of the extra-large form, I couldn’t help wondering as to why the surveyors couldn’t have been given tablets instead – in terms of the repeated efforts of first filling up the forms and then having to enter the data into the database. Given the size of the form and difficulty of carrying, it would have done the surveyors a huge favour.
  • Finally, the form was filled with pencil. Ostensibly this was so that if they made any errors in entry, they could correct immediately. I’m assuming there are no “convenient alterations” made.

Thinking about it now (I didn’t think yesterday) I’ve perhaps given away more information than I should have (voter ID number, etc.), and might have compromised on my privacy. I hope, however, that I’m one of those people who gets access to the raw database once it’s compiled (obviously much much easier said than done), given the kind of data that has been collected and the insights that can be drawn from it.

If you are a politician who gets your hands on this data, and want to use that to build your election strategy, you should hire me. There is a wealth of information in this data!

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