Anatomy of a survey - Belur diary

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Arghyam, www.arghyam.org, (the organisation that runs the India Water Portal) is conducting a water and sanitation survey in the state of Karnataka. One of the most intensive efforts of its kind, the survey will cover 17,200 households in all 28 districts of Karntaka. This will be a people's survey where the surveyors will be from among the people and include students, women members of self help groups, local NGO partners and other interested volunteers.
The survey has entered the intensive phase in December, with the preparatory phases completed and the actual survey work has begun. Through a series of posts here we'll trace the survey process and provide an inside look at how this project is goingTo see the entire series, click here : https://www.indiawaterportal.org/blog/?s=Anatomy+Of+A+Survey
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Arun Patre, independant civil society observer documents his visit to a survey site in Belur

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ASHWAS field visit , Belur Dairy

Having ushered into the social sector newly in its real sense had meant quite a distinct change in mindset personally. While am still coping to the transition, the field visit to Belur for the ASHWAS survey was a much needed reality check for the ones like myself who have only seen the niceties of an urban life, all our rural amenities are a far cry from what I gather through this visit. The visit has been quite thought provocating to harsh realities one has to face both by the rich as well as the poor in the rural areas. I felt the need for the government to make it mandatory for all schools and colleges be it private or public be it a management school or a medical school, to must have rural development project volunteering as a part of our education agenda. Instead of learning C++ programming which helps prosper other economies or learning complex derivative models which have helped only in the destruction of the world economy, I got to also see how C++ programming can be implemented as part of social development roles and also how we need the mechanics of cash flow statement and DCF tables to value the city resources and plan our water needs or other civic amenities too. It would not only help us implement the plans the government has outlaid but also make the youth more attuned to the realities that our country faces, the glamour of urban lifestyle has led most of us in a comfort zone. This has also led to a wide held belief that India is progressing at rapid pace, but who have we left behind still? Why can't we drag them along in urban India's progress?
I reached Belur district and had to find my way to Sompura village which belongs to the Bentenahalli Gram Panchayat. It wasn't a daunting task really but I was getting used to the nomenclature of District/Taluk/GP etc., On reaching the village I was in for a very cordial and welcoming survey team, who immediately struck a chord with me. I was briefed about the activities in the last two days and how they have gone about all the activities so far. With our immediate conversations I realized that I was the least experienced person in terms of the activity we had set out for. All the team members had worked on surveys of various orders for several causes and the supervisor , Sikandar had been in the NGO sector for more than two years now and he also had an academic backing in social sector having done his MSW. All the details apart I could see that they were driven individuals who seemed to be set out in the right direction of seeking the best of the inputs the survey needed. Their motivation levels were so high in terms of extracting evidences and recording the same in an accurate manner was quite striking.
We began by taking a stroll through the hamlet to make any important observations. The layout of the village was split into three distinct areas. There was the school which was the most important part, then were two areas earmarked for the Lingayat community and the other for the SC community. The differences between the two lanes were quite natural, but we all did note the fact that all of the villagers were one when it came to facing the difficulties of daily life and they took pride in sharing their sorrows. Right in the middle of one of the lanes was a huge dumping ground where we could human as well as animal waste including garbage being in the open since several ages. The mosquitoes were truly a menace out here, and none prefers to come out in the evenings due to the same am told.
The team starts to narrate several instances they faced as a part of the survey in the last few days. Each story was marked in emotion and grief of varying degrees. Sikandar was quick to mention that he was thankful to Arghyam's digital camera that enabled him to capture some of the most dramatic events he was a witness to. In one of the village, he tells me they were a part of such a dire narration by all the villagers. Several of them in tears expressing their extreme conditions and their hopes were so rekindled when they saw Arghyam. Sikandar says he was pounded by several questions, probing him to make promises that we plan to make post this survey. That was certainly the most immediate question even I was encountered with the moment I said we were here for a survey.
One particular incident is worth all of the attention that it can grab. In a particular village the team had travelled to, they saw that the only source of water they had was a thin stream or better explained as the size of a few strands wheezing through the rocks between the mountains. The colour of the water they tell me was distinctly red, they were unable to ascertain why it is so yet. It was clearly unhygienic by any standards. But out of sheer necessity the villagers' pool in a large well they have made below that stream and it caters about 18 vessels full of water for a day, which is all they live on entirely!!
 The household survey was carried out easily but each household was initially skeptical of letting us go by, but the team having gone through this several times had their way with all of the villagers and knew how to go about this situation. Now came the time to do the session with the elderly or the important community of the village. Sikandar tells me that through his observations in other villages, he has ascertained that it is quite challenging to get the elderly or the community in its real sense to get to answer us and also the timing to catch them all at once, so what he does most of the time is invariably getting in touch with the self-help groups or the micro-finance teams in each hamlet/village and he gathers them around for this survey. I seemed to agree with his opinion that this was quite an efficient way of doing it as the women were the ones who would give us more accurate inputs that we need and as part of these groups they had a bonding to a cause too, which binds them to cater to our purpose too.
We end our village visit with a stint with the school. We are encountered with curious looking faces looking up from their books pondering over what we are doing… We seek permission of the teacher and take a few minutes of all the children to explain the water quality test as well as the posters that we give them explaining the objective for each of it. The immediate question the teacher had after the water quality test was how can she do a similar test for the water she uses at home, as she comes from a nearby town. I was also told that, it was one of the immediate reactions every place they went as not many people knew of a formal way to test the water quality. After being a part of this activity, I was intrigued to carry out the test for myself back in Bangalore at my own house too!
Now, we were to proceed to the Gram Panchayat which had plagued the team for the past four days by not co-operating with them so far. I was asked to act with authority with the officer there to seek all the inputs we needed, I was immediately thinking of this dicey situation faced by an amateur such as myself in dealing with the Babudom! Never mind, we proceeded to the Panchayat office only to be told that the Secretary was in the Panchayat office of a neighboring village, he took care of the two am told. We finally encountered the man who had given us a harrowing time only to find that he seemed to have taken time to fill in some statistics of the village we had asked for. He welcomes us as he makes lame excuses for not meeting up earlier. I start making up some first impressions of the babu, I am faced now as Sikandar much a veteran to the industry knows how to handle him well. We make a startling observation in the numbers he has filled in, as we have a literacy rate of 104% staring at us!! The officer obviously had no clue of what the mathematics meant when we probed him. He tells us that the computer operator had got married and she had absconded his efforts to get this right, and he seems to get these numbers out of thin air, I thought! As we proceed I realize the ignorance of the man who is presiding two villages, had no clue on several of our questions. He seemed to be making calls to some other officials in order to get the information, who seemed to be equally incompetent at the effort. We were seeing banners of TSC / Nirmal Gram Sanskar and of likes all over the office but the officer claimed that he had no knowledge of most of them in his statements.
Some of the positive aspects of the Gram Panchayat office was that it also housed a library and was quite well resourced, the person who took care of it also tells me that it was well utilized and a healthy amount of people do make use of it. In another part of the office was the computer office which was being used for quite a few notable purposes. The operator told me that they use it for budget documentations as well as other official uses which included a database of several statistics of the villages they administer. I noted the fact she mentioned that the government has recently launched a plan wherein all the GP offices would have an internet connection. This would mean quite a lot for us as these numbers can be more meaningful when they can accessed through a centralized database as well. I immediately thought of checking with e-governments if they had such a plan in the offing.
We then retired for lunch, although not left with peace of mind due to the phase of all the events of the day. We then decide to visit the Hoysaleshwara temple in Belur to mark the end of our visit. Normally, you would expect to be bowled over by the stupendous glory and architecture of the temples and its glorious past. But for now my mind was lurking on the contrast the past had in the same region which experienced the golden ages, while now just a few kilometers away there were no basic amenities for its citizens. I carried on setting aside the shilabalike's beauty while other thoughts lurked in.
On my way back, reflecting on the impressions of the whole day left me with much more concrete inputs for the survey than just deck research I would have otherwise indulged in. As we tabulate the results from the survey and heaps of work ahead on reporting the findings, am mostly waiting as the others in the team are as to what our lobbying efforts would result in to the world around us …

-- Arun Patre, arun.patre@gmail.com

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