PROVIDENCE, R.I. [Brown University] – Sociology Graduate Student and PSTC Trainee Trina Vithayathil receives awards from NSF and Fulbright-Hays to support dissertation fieldwork to study how caste data are produced during a contemporary caste census in India.Caste remains the essential organizing principle for individuals and families in Indian society, and is important in assignment of status and opportunities.
She is examining how Indian state constructs official survey data on caste and religion interviews with enumerated families and government workers, observational data, and primary and secondary data, including public and historical records of the caste census, enabling her to compare contemporary notions of caste to the last caste census in India, which was conducted by the British Empire in 1931.
Preliminary findings suggest that the social aspect of census data collection shapes the data in systematic ways that differ significantly from how survey designers imagine the data to be. In urban areas where data collectors and household respondents are unknown to one another, the production of caste data must be understood within the norms and experiences of building trust real-time during the household interview. For example, while caste and religion data will be analyzed as individual level data, households and census workers discuss religion and caste as a family identity during the household interview. In addition, where state and civil society have remained largely inactive with regards to publicity around census, respondents have a very limited understanding of the larger implications of the data. As a result, the behaviors and understandings of data collectors disproportionately shape the type of data that are produced.