This week I wish to repost Gautam Bhan and Arindam Jana’s commentary from the Economic and Political Weekly, cautioning us about the way in which the Indian slum census is being read.
The first Indian slum census was introduced in 1976 and since then this elaborate effort has produced authoritative and important data that helps us understand the slum at a macro level. However what is it that we read in this data, is still determined by our biases and the meaning that we come to assign to these categories.
Gautam and Arindam’s commentary highlights the misconceptions that the data can produce. They urge us to :
“(a) question the correlation between the “slum” as deﬁned by the census and the poor especially in the context of increased displacement of the urban poor within our cities
(b) add dimensions of quality and kind to estimations of access to services like water, sanitation and electricity
Surveys and their abstracted diagrams have an authoritative truth claim that convinces technocrats and lay men alike. Its probably worth reminding ourselves that the slum is an unbounded, fluid, complex entity and reading it through hard data, be it a survey or a drawing, requires additional triangulation through multiple narratives of people who belong or have belonged to these communities.