Category Archives: Mentor in Media

Power of data

Power of data


India observes Statistics Day on June 29 to mark the birth anniversary of P.C. Mahalanobis, the architect of the most credible official statistical system in post-Independence India. The National Sample Survey Directorate was first set up under the ministry of finance in 1950; it aimed to collect data in the areas that are vital for developmental planning.

There has been an incredible boom in big data – data is everywhere – yet there is shortage of relevant and timely information when it comes to determining effective public policy. The National Sample Survey holds a glimmer of hope for policymakers and researchers. Studies show that reliable data form the bedrock of better governance; it helps citizens measure how much of the political rhetoric is translated into reality. For instance, an ongoing survey on sanitation will definitely shed light on the progress of the Swachh Bharat Mission.

The statistical findings of official bodies also make the government of the day more accountable. One NSSO survey indicates that digital literacy is inextricably linked to educational attainment. The focus of the Digital India initiative should thus be connected with an investment in the education sector, aimed at improving the quality of education.

The NSS has been providing critical data on education, employment, health, poverty and so on since its inception. More important, NSSO’s stratified survey design is very effective in capturing diversities among various groups and spatial locations. For example, the recent education round-up shows how some social groups are still lagging behind more than 70 years after Independence, calling for the immediate attention of policymakers.

With technological advancement in data software, researchers can use datasets from more than one lakh households or of six lakh individuals to produce estimates according to social groups, economic status and regions. An analysis can also be done, with some caution, at the district level.

Untapped potential

Given the importance of the data, the NSS could have been far better utilized than it is at present. Very few researchers can actually exploit the entire scope of the data. Besides the government, NSS data is largely used only by students of economics or statistics, that too in a handful of specialized academic institutes.

What are the barriers in the way of accessing NSS data? The report of every round of survey is published along with a summary of the key findings. Yet using the raw data remains a challenge owing to multiple inherent bottlenecks. First, most social science courses have failed in educating students about the national statistical systems, including NSSO’s surveys. Students are taught to master the craft of sophisticated and advanced quantitative techniques like time-series econometrics and panel data. But rarely anything is taught about data management, handling techniques and so on.

Then, the documentation of NSS data poses challenges for users owing to the use of old-fashioned guidelines that are exhaustive but not user-friendly. As NSS follows a highly technical sampling procedure, researchers without an understanding of statistics and economics find it difficult to comprehend the data. In addition, dealing with the data requires a high level of digital literacy, which is a lacuna as far as Indian social scientists are concerned. Some of the problems plaguing the handling of NSS data are the extraction of data, combining different data sets – appending and merging – and reshaping data – changing the units of the data.

In order to make NSS data more accessible, the government should consider increasing the allocation of funds for training young scholars, engaging students from non-economic and non-statistics background, and finally, special arrangements can be made with credible news organizations to promote data journalism using NSS data.


Leave a comment

Filed under Mentor in Media

communal tension in West Bengal


riot eaisamay.jpg

Enter a caption


Leave a comment

Filed under Mentor in Media

Runaway children abused at railway stations, says report

A study has revealed that these children (average age 12) are subjected to extensive “physical and sexual abuse.”

The physical torture and sexual exploitation of migrant children living in major railway stations of Bengal became apparent when a couple of years back several such children drew the sketch of a stick at a drawing programme held during a survey.

According to researchers associated with the programme, the sketch of a stick drawn by most of these migrant children was a symbol of physical abuse. The sticks not only indicated “physical assault by the law enforcement personnel but also sexual abuse as it can be interpreted as the male genitalia,” the researchers said.

A study has revealed that these children (average age 12) are subjected to extensive “physical and sexual abuse.”

The study, published in a report of the Mahanirban Calcutta Research Group (MCRG), a leading forum of research scholars, was jointly authored by Sabir Ahamed, a research coordinator at the Pratichi Trust, and Debarati Bagchi, former research associate with MCRG.

“Their profiles recorded by the NGOs and Railway Authorities reveal that an overwhelming 78 per cent of the children traced as runaway children or missing children at Sealdah station belong to marginalised social groups, i.e, Scheduled Castes and Muslims,” stated the research paper titled “A Study of Women and Children Migrants in Calcutta.” It also states that on an average three migrant children arrive at major railway stations of the State everyday.

In the study, Mr. Ahamed points out that one of the key reasons behind these children running away from home is the “pressure” from their parents to financially contribute to the family. Majority of these homeless children at Sealdah station are from North and South 24 Parganas districts as well as from Howrah and Hooghly. While 80 per cent of these children are from Bengal, the rest are from Jharkhand, Bihar, Odisha, Assam, Delhi and Uttar Pradesh.

They also fall prey to drug addiction and spend most of their earnings on it. “They spent most of their meagre daily income, ranging from Rs. 350 to Rs. 500, on drugs and sometimes on sex,” Mr. Ahamed told The Hindu.

As for women migrants, research by Ms. Bagchi has found that they (migrant women) increasingly preferred rag picking over working as domestic help.

“Rag picking provides them flexible working hours and they also do not have to face the humiliation involved in working as domestic help,” she told The Hindu. As domestic help, these women are not only discriminated against in wages but are often not allowed to use the toilet at the houses of employers.

Leave a comment

Filed under Mentor in Media