Some Final Thoughts, and Thanks

I will be flying back to Chicago tonight so am frantically packing my things. But in light of the busyness of this last week, I wanted to wrap up this blog with a post that reviews some of what I found during the last few months and thanks everyone who helped along the way.

I flew to India more than ten months ago under the impression that my research would be primarily focused on sampling methods. This is in part because over the previous three years I spent a lot of time sitting in meetings and holding discussions about the challenges of acquiring representative samples, whether sample demographics matched the population’s demographics, how to improve sampling methods, etc.

What became clear to me over the first few weeks and months of my research is that this is a problem that many people have already thought extensively about. When it comes to making sure the demographics of one’s sample matches those of the population one is sampling, survey research organizations have some tried and true methods of trying to reach those harder-to-reach populations. They have good data on the demographics of the population they are working with, with the noteworthy exception of caste. When sample demographics don’t match those of the population, as will happen inevitably with some variables, they weight the data.

Furthermore, one can make generalizations about the challenges of sampling a particular population only insofar as that population has some amount of uniformity. The challenge of speaking about India is that it is a teeming multitude of populations. With 1.3 billion people spread out across 29 states and 7 union territories speaking 22 official languages (and hundreds of unofficial ones), India is more than just a country. It is a subcontinent that is home to one sixth of humanity, the most radical democratic experiment in history.

So the notion that there are certain challenges to polling India is useful only up until the point where one comes into contact with India’s variegated realities. I had the good fortune of coming into contact with just a few of these realities in my ten months here: different neighborhoods in downtown Patnaa Bodo village on the outskirts of Guwahatia working class neighborhood in west Delhi, a mid-sized town and its surrounding villages in Tamil Nadua Muslim village on the outskirts of a major city in West Bengal, a comfortable suburb on the outskirts of Thiruvananthapuram, among others. These environments all had their own unique challenges for the field researchers who were sent to question designated respondents. Their knowledge of that environment and ability to navigate it proved critical in their ability to complete interviews successfully.

Here are some examples of how field researchers dealt with (or were unable to deal with) such challenges:

1. Gender

In both West Guwahati assembly constituency of Assam and Bolpur constitutency of West Bengal, female respondents were rarely interviewed in isolation. Their husbands or fathers frequently observed the interviews and would often start answering the questions for their wives/daughters. Field investigators would try to direct questions back to the respondent, but the respondent would often defer towards her husband or father, especially for questions related to abstract issues, such as ideology, or current affairs.

2. Caste

In the villages around Usilampatti, where intercaste violence between backwards castes and Dalits has been frequent, field investigators must know which villages have been flashpoints of such violence. In such villages, it is not safe for field researchers to even ask about the caste of respondents, as it may threaten their safety to raise the topic. Caste is a standard demographic variable included in all surveys, and so field investigators need to exercise a great deal of judgment about when and where to ask about it.

3. Language / ethnicity

Visiting a village on the outskirts of Guwahati that is home to Bodos and Rabhas, field investigators who spoke Assamese and Bengali were only able to interview the residents of the village who spoke Assamese. For the remainder of the village’s residents who spoke only Bodo and Rabha, the investigators were not able to complete interviews. Most of the selected respondents from the village could thus not be interviewed. Field investigators did not feel safe in the village and continued to the next polling station in the constituency.

4. Religion

In Ruppur, a village around Bolpur in West Bengal, residents in the Muslim section of the village expressed a great deal of hesitation and skepticism about participating in the survey. “Rajniti [politics],” one resident said, with disdain. Field investigators had to diligently explain that the surveys they were conducting were confidential and not for any political party or group. After the first few interviews, village residents became more comfortable with the interviews. This initial hesitation and skepticism was not encountered in the Hindu section of the village.

This experience was very different from field researchers conducting interviews in the Muslim section of Palikkal, a village about 50 km from Kerala’s capital, Thiruvananthapuram. Though many residents were not home, those who were welcomed the field investigators to the house and did not show much initial hesitance to answering questions about the upcoming elections.

5. Urban and rural settings

In neighborhoods of cities and larger towns, whether they were Delhi, Guwahati, Bolpur, or Nemom, many selected respondents were not home at the time of the field investigators’ visit because they were at their jobs in different parts of the city. If someone else was at the home, field investigators would try to set up a time to return and complete the interview. But the limited amount of time they had — somewhere between two to four days to complete all their interviews — meant that field investigators often had to make judgment calls about whether or not to return to the household and re-attempt the interview.

Furthermore, navigating urban neighborhoods to find the households of selected respondents nearly always proved to be challenging. Field investigators would ask other respondents, shopkeepers, and neighborhood residents about the addresses and names of those who were selected for interview, but people often did not know so well the names of all people in their neighborhood. This was especially the case in Bolpur and Nemom; in Usilampatti, respondents were more likely to identify names and addresses in their neighborhood. Field investigators had to make a judgment about how much effort to expend locating households in one particular neighborhood before moving onto the next neighborhood.

In small villages, such as Ruppur or the Bodo village on the outskirts of Guwahati, respondents were much more likely to know the names and locations of selected respondents. In the case of Ruppur, a group of young men led the field investigators around the village to each listed respondent. On the other hand, in Palikkal (also a small village) field investigators struggled to complete many interviews since village residents were less familiar with the names and addresses of selected respondents in the area.

Transportation to villages often proved a logistical obstacle to completing more interviews. An expensive rickshaw ride was required to go from Bolpur to Ruppur, for example (the rickshaw driver looked with puzzlement at the field investigators when they said this was where they wanted to go). Work had to be cut short earlier in the afternoon in order to catch the last bus back to Bolpur. Field investigators had to be familiar with bus schedules to ensure that they could arrive in the village and return to their home or hostel before dark.

6. Class

In one village outside of Usilampatti, many of the village’s residents were unemployed agricultural workers who earned a living from the MGNREGA scheme. Field investigators went to the field where the villagers were working and started completing interviews, but were disrupted by a panchayat (local government) clerk who told the villagers not to answer any questions. One field investigator talked to the clerk, explaining why the survey was being conducted and presenting him with the official letter from CSDS, but the clerk insisted that the field investigators leave.

Many of the selected respondents in villages around Usilampatti had left to work in larger towns and cities around Tamil Nadu. In Nemom, it was also the case that several selected respondents had left their homes and were presently working jobs in the Middle East. Field investigators were not able to interview any of these selected respondents.

7. Education

Respondents with lower levels of education often struggled to comprehend many of the questions in the questionnaire, especially those related to current events. However, some could hardly understand any of the questions beyond which party they had supported or would be supporting in the election. Some respondents in Bolpur and Ruppur who were supporters of Trinamool Congress merely answered, “Trinamool,” for all questions, even those for which “Trinamool” was not an option or for which the response “Trinamool” would convey something negative about the party. Field investigators had to make a judgment about whether respondents really meant to convey a negative impression about Trinamool or simply did not understand the question. This was a challenge encountered by field investigators working in the villages around Usilampatti as well. Many of the selected respondents simply did not understand the content of questions. One old woman asked, “Who is Modi?” for one of the questions about the central government’s welfare schemes. Field investigators therefore had to make decisions about whether it made sense to ask all questions in the questionnaire, when it was clear from the initial section of the interview that the respondent hardly understood the content of questions.

As has become clear from interviews with researchers, there are national level trends when it comes to challenges of survey research in India, and the practitioners of surveys who have been conducting them for decades (VB Singh, Yogendra Yadav, Sanjay Kumar, Yashwant Deshmukh, and Dhananjai Joshi) are well familiar with them: lower response rates among Dalits, Muslims, and tribal populations; challenges in reaching female respondents, particularly Muslim female respondents; and lower response rates in urban neighborhoods. As Yogendra Yadav succinctly explained: 

Random sample with a reasonably large size gets you everything. But anything other than random sample almost invariably oversamples again the more articulate, the more well-to-do, men, urban. The slope of privileges is such that sampling tends to flow in the direction of socioeconomically more powerful groups: rich, men, urban, upper caste, media-exposed, educated. And since all of these, except the gender, has a significant correlation with each other upon another, there is a very substantial overrepresentation of one section of society.

My point in explicating the examples above is to illustrate how the challenges of conducting survey research in India are not limited to these general trends. They are the beginning rather than the end of obstacles faced by those conducting surveys in India (I did not even touch on the all-important issue of funding, nor the issue of pressures that comes from media and other clients), and the examples above hopefully illustrate how obstacles are highly localized and unique to each and every environment. In order to navigate them, field investigators must be conscious of the challenges in their assigned environments and capable of navigating them competently. Retention of experienced field staff who are passionate about the work they are doing is therefore a must.

In light of the highly localized challenges of conducting survey research in India, researchers might want to think about how the design of questionnaires can be done in a way that integrates local knowledge more extensively. I don’t mean that questionnaires should be put to a vote and of course understand the precious value of real estate on questionnaires. But perhaps the mechanisms by which local knowledge flows up to those designing the questionnaire at the highest levels can be re-examined. This might be especially helpful in the case of states that tend to be more outside the expertise of north Indian researchers. From my viewpoint in Delhi, where all of my three research affiliates were based, it was the South and Northeast where more inputs from people in the states might have expanded our ability to understand the results of the Assam, Kerala, and Tamil Nadu elections. The questions we ask are, after all, the ones that define our analysis.

This research would not have been possible without the support, encouragement, and contributions of so many people.

From my old employer D3 Systems, thanks to David Jodice, Matthew Warshaw, Sandra Newman, and David Peng for their encouragement towards pursuing this project and their recommendations. I am also grateful to my former professor and thesis supervisor, Samer Shehata, for his recommendation.

From the United States-India Educational Foundation, thanks to Adam Grotsky, Neeraj Goswami, Priyanjana Ghosh, Pavitra Soram, and Kalden Shringla for their guidance and support.

Thank you to everyone who sat down for an interview: Rajdeep Sardesai, Rukmini S, Dhananjai JoshiRajeeva KarandikarYashwant DeshmukhPraveen Rai, Yogendra YadavVB Singh, Sanjay Kumar, and Mukulika Banerjee.

From Impetus Research, thanks to Ankur Aggarwal, Raghavendra Srivastava, Anil Kumar Jha, Rajni Singh, and Krishna Shahi.

From CVoter, thank you very much to Shalinder Mahjan, Shaleja, SK, Abdul Menon, Ajit Shukla, and everyone else at the Noida office. Thanks especially to Yashwant Deshmukh, who was generous with his time and allowed me to peer inside the guts of his organization in a way that commercial pollsters rarely allow.

From the CSDS-Lokniti network around the country, thanks to Dhruba Pratim Sharma, Meenakshi, Vashwati Das, Jyoti Prasad Chatterjee, Suprio Basu, Biswajit Prasad, Shaw Chandan, KM Sajad Ibrahim, Sandeep Shastri, Rajeena Aysha, Anuja, Arya, Sukanya, P. Rama Jayam, Ranith, Thanalakshmi, Pechi, and Kajinder for help with logistics and letting me follow your work.

Most of all, thank you to everyone at the Lokniti office in Delhi: Asmita Aasaavari, Dhananjay Kumar Singh, Vibha Attri, Jyoti Mishra, Shreyas Sardesai, Nitin Mehta, Arushi Gupta, Himanshu Bhattacharya, Pranav Gupta, Rahul Verma, and of course Sanjay Kumar. These people are truly at the forefront of thinking about Indian politics, and I have learned more from them in ten months than I ever could have expected.

Thank you, reader, for taking an interest in this research.

I will be back. Until next time, this is Polling One Billion, signing off.




Team CVoter


Kerala and Tamil Nadu Pre-Poll Observation

Today is Election Day in Kerala and Tamil Nadu. Originally, I was planning to write an election guide for each of the state elections going on right now. But time has not allowed for it. I will be heading back to the United States in less than two weeks and am starting to wrap up my research here. Where has the time gone?!

I spent the last week travelling through these two southern states to observe fieldwork for the ongoing CSDS pre-poll election studies. Unlike for Assam and West Bengal, these studies were being fielded before election day because of the quick turnaround on analysis. In both states, but particularly in Kerala, signs of the imminent elections were everywhere. Billboards and posters for the governing United Democratic Front (UDF) competed for space with the challenging Left Democratic Front (LDF). The BJP also had established a strong campaign presence in the capital of Thiruvananthapuram and the surrounding areas. In Tamil Nadu, I saw fewer campaign posters, particularly in the cities of Madurai and Chennai. In the villages surrounding Madurai, however, the two-leaf symbol of the governing Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (ADMK) and the rising sun symbol of the challenging Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) decorated the walls of houses. Flags from the All India Forward Bloc (AIFB), which won the constituency I was visiting in 2011, were also in abundance. By the roadside, streamers with pictures of Jayalaalithaa, Tamil Nadu’s chief minister, or Karunanidhi, her rival from the DMK, hung from different campaign rally sites.

Like my previous post, a concise summary of the field visit is will be presented here rather than an extended narration.

On May 5, I flew down to Thiruvananthapuram by way of Chennai and checked into the guesthouse at the University of Kerala campus in Kazhakuttom. On May 6, I observed the full-day training for Kerala field investigators at the University of Kerala. Sandeep Shastri, National Coordinator of the Lokniti Network and Pro Vice Chancellor at Jain University in Bangalore, led the training. On May 7, I met up with two field investigators working in Nemom, a suburb that is 8 km south of Thiruvananthapuram city center (the assembly constitutency of Nemom was won by the Communist Party of India (Marxist), or CPM, in 2011). We met up late in the afternoon, around 4 PM, and so I only observed one interview since so many listed respondents were not home. On May 8, I met up with two other field investigators working in the village of Pallikkal, which is about 40 km north from Kazhakuttom in the assembly constitutency of Varkala (which was won by the Indian National Congress in 2011). Like the day before, we met late in the day — close to 4 PM — and so I could only observe two interviews. Like in Nemom, many of the selected respondents were not home at the time of our visit.

On May 9, I travelled by overnight train, the Ananthapuri Express, from Thiruvananthapuram to Madurai in Tamil Nadu. Madurai is the third largest city in Tamil Nadu, home to the legendary Meenakshi Amman temple complex. On May 10, I met up with four field investigators working in the area around Usilampatti, a town that is 40 km west of Madurai. I observed the work of FIs interviewing respondents in the countryside villages surrounding Usilampatti: Nallathathunayakkappatti, Sangakavundanppatti, Palaiyur, Karisalpatti, and Kattarripatti. On May 11, I squeezed in a morning visit to the Meenakshi Amman temple of Madurai before joining the FIs conducting in the city of Usilampatti. The assembly constituency of Usilampatti was won by the All India Forward Bloc (AIFB) in 2011. I took an overnight train, the Ananthapuri Express once again, from Madurai and arrived in Chennai on the morning of May 12. In the morning, I ate breakfast at Saravana Bhavan, visited the museum at Fort St. George, and stopped by Higgenbothams Booksellers and Stationers before heading to the airport and flying back to Delhi.

  1. Urban vs. rural areas: As with Assam and West Bengal, respondents in urban areas were more difficult to locate than respondents in rural areas. People on the street and in the neighborhoods of selected respondents were less likely to know the location of other selected respondents in urban areas than in rural areas. This meant that a lot of the time for fieldwork in urban areas (especially Menom) was spent asking people on the street if they know the location of selected respondents and walking around to identify households. In villages, particularly in village centres where older men gather, people were much more likely to identify the names of selected respondents and point us towards their houses.
  2. Low response rate in Kerala: Both researchers from the CSDS office in Delhi and the Lokniti coordinator for Kerala, Professor Sajad Ibrahim Ali, informed me that historically the response rate for Kerala is lower than that of other Indian states. This has been the case in state and national election studies, and as the data were being collected for this election study, Professor Ibrahim informed me that it would also be the case this time. Several team members from Kerala informed me that response rates are higher in north Kerala than in south Kerala, and particularly in Theruvananthapuram and the surrounding areas. No one had a clear answer about why this is. Some field investigators speculated that it had to do with the number of people working who were not home during the day. On my two admittedly short observations of fieldwork, field investigators experienced challenges locating houses and arranging interviews with the selected respondents once they had located the households.
  3. Caste in Tamil Nadu: Ranith, one of the field investigators whom I was observing, informed me that caste was a very sensitive issue in many of the villages around Usilampatti. The Lokniti state coordinator for Tamil Nadu, Professor P Ramajayam said, also said that Usilampatti is notorious for intercaste violence. Violent caste-related incidents in Tamil Nadu are most common between different backwards classes, such as Gounders and Vanniyars, and Scheduled Castes (SC) or dalits. In some of the villages we visited, it was dangerous for field investigators to even raise the issue or ask questions about it (every CSDS election study includes demographic questions about caste). For some interviews, the field investigators would therefore skip any such questions in the questionnaire. Field investigators in Tamil Nadu have to carefully navigate the complexities and sensitivities of caste while collecting data. That all four field investigators were from Usilampatti and the surrounding villages was critical, as they knew which villages it was safe to ask about caste.
  4. Religion: While Tamil Nadu is a state with a large (88%) Hindu majority, Kerala is a state with sizable Muslim and Christian minorities (54% Hindu, 27% Muslim, 18% Christian). The field investigators whom I observed in Kerala expressed skepticism that response rate was different across religion, though they said it was sometimes harder to speak with women in Muslim households (all the field investigators with whom I worked in Kerala were female). Though the neighborhood we were interviewing in Pallikkal was largely Muslim, I did not spend enough time in the field in Kerala to receive an informed impression about how religion shapes fieldwork in Kerala.
  5. Gender: The gendered dynamics of interviews which I observed in Assam and West Bengal were not as much in evidence in Kerala and Tamil Nadu. That is to say, while female respondents who were selected were nearly always interviewed in the presence of their father or husband in Assam and West Bengal, this did not seem to be the case in Kerala and Tamil Nadu. However, any difference may be due to the fact that the interviews I observed with female respondents in Kerala and Tamil Nadu were all conducted by female interviewers; in West Bengal, the interviewers whom I observed were male. In Tamil Nadu, the team of field investigators included two male FIs and two female FIs. This was for the safety of female FIs when traveling through villages in the countryside. It also allowed for male FIs to interview male respondents and female FIs to interview female respondents.
  6. Education level: For a number of respondents in Usilampatti and the surrounding areas, education level was so low that respondents could not understand the content of many of the questions. One respondent, for example, responded to a question about Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s different government initiative by saying that she did not know who Narendra Modi is. Field investigators thus had to make spur-of-the-moment judgments about which questions to ask and which could not be reasonably asked of the respondents. In the case of illiterate respondents who lacked even basic knowledge about political affairs in Tamil Nadu and India, the focus was on collecting correct demographic data and ensuring that the respondent answered the question about voting intention.
  7. Timing: Many of the respondents in Nemom, Pallikkal, Usilampatti, and the surrounding villages of Usilampatti were not home during the daytime because they were at their jobs. In the case of villages around Usilampatti, there was one village for which all or most of the villagers were out in a field working under the MGNREGA (Mohandas Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act). We went to the field to find the villagers assembled in the shade of the trees. When the FIs began conducting interviews with selected respondents, a village clerk from the panchayat (local administration) showed up and demanded that the interviews cease. The local official told the villagers not to answer any questions being asked by survey researchers. The FIs tried talking to the clerk and showed them their official CSDS letter, but the clerk insisted that we leave. This incident showed how field investigators sometimes must deal with obstacles presented by local government. It also illustrated how unemployed workers receiving benefits through MNREGA (which guarantees 100 days of agricultural work a year) may be less likely to be interviewed for surveys.
  8. Economic migration: Many of the selected respondents who were not available in the villages surrounding Usilampatti had left their village to work in either a larger city of Tamil Nadu or another state like Kerala. Such economic migration meant that many selected respondents in a given village could not be interviewed.

My pictures below. Unfortunately, my phone failed me on the date of May 6 so I lost pictures from the training workshop at the University of Kerala. What was perhaps most visually striking in Tamil Nadu was the placement of beautiful towering temples with elaborate carvings in village centres, even in the tiniest and poorest of villages.

Counting Day is only three days away. CSDS should have some analysis in the papers following the announcement of the election results.

May 7 (Nemom, Kerala)




Billboards for the United Democratic Front and National Democratic Alliance, over graffiti for the Communist Party of India (Marxist)








Picking jasmine



Graffiti for the Indian National Congress / United Democratic FrontIMG_20160507_174525

May 8 (Pallikkal, Kerala)


University of Kerala campus in Kazhakootam













May 9 (Kazhakootam to Madurai)


With Rajeena at the University of Kerala canteen



Aboard the Ananthapuri Express

May 10 (Villages around Usilampatti, Tamil Nadu)


Tamil dailies report on the election


In the Dalit section of a village





Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (ADMK) and Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) posters










The two leaves are the symbol for the ADMK


The sun rising between the mountains symbol of the DMK










Ranith, Thanalakshmi, and Pechi

May 11 (Madurai and Usilampatti, Tamil Nadu)


At the Meenakshi Amman temple










Golden Lotus Tank








Lord Ganesha




A model of the temple complex


Dancing Shiva and Parvati


In the Thousand Pillar Hall








Usilampatti bus station


Interviews in Usilampatti






With Ram’s grandmother


Downtown Madurai

May 12 (Chennai)


Fort St. George museum



Higginbotham’s Booksellers, oldest bookstore in India

Jaipur and Jodhpur

Blogging has been backlogged — I am just now posting photos from Jaipur and Jodhpur in the days following the South and Central Asia Fulbright Conference at the end of February / start of March.

Tomorrow, I will be going out to Assam and West Bengal to observe exit polls being conducted by CVoter and fieldwork for the CSDS post-polls in both states. Reports to be posted on the blog once I return.

Jaipur (March 2-3)


Entrance to the Pink City


Hawa Mahal



Albert Hall Museum


Gateway to City Palace



Tikam Chand maintains a camera that dates back to the 1860s in front of Hawa Mahal


The photos look like they’re from the 1860s


Overlooking Jaipur from Suriya Mandir

Jodhpur (March 4-5)


Looking out across the rooftops of the Old City


Umaid Bhawan, the last palace to be built in India (completed in 1944)



View from Jaswant Thada


Mehrangarh Fort


Overlooking the Blue City from Mehrangarh Fort








Mandor Gardens, where the ancient capital of Marwar was located







The Clock Tower in the middle of the Old City



Benares and Sarnath

Heading off to the airport within an hour, so this post will have to be brief. I am headed to Jaipur for the Fulbright Research Conference of scholars across South and Central Asia. We will all be presenting our research, and I am very much looking forward to seeing what everyone else has been doing. The slides from my presentation will be posted to the blog next week.

Last week, Brandon and I traveled to Benares to visit Ben, a Fulbright scholar who is conducting his research on the Kabir Panth religious sect. Shayak, a scholar conducting research on air pollution in Kanpur, visited as well. Ben has spent a lot of time in Benares, and knows its history as well as its nooks and crannies. We visited the Kabir math, walked along Benares’ famous ghats, witnessed a cremation along the River Ganga, and attended an arthi.

Out on the eastern end of Uttar Pradesh, Benares is a beautiful city, one of the oldest continually habited in the world. It is a conservative and traditional city, both majestic and mired in cow feces. A boat ride along the Ganga during the early morning hours is worth the visit alone. Benares is the city of Shiva, considered among the holiest of cities in all of India. Many Hindu pilgrims live out their final days there in the belief that dying in Benares releases one’s soul from the eternal cycle of life and death. Because of its religious significance, Benares is the constituency that Prime Minister Narendra Modi contested and won during the 2014 elections.

On the final day of our visit, we went to nearby Sarnath. One of the four main Buddhist pilgrimage sites, Sarnath is where the Buddha preached his first sermon upon attaining enlightenment. The site brings pilgrims from around the world to its many temples and statues for the Buddha.

On to Jaipur, then Jodhpur, before coming back to Delhi this weekend. Happy Leap Day.

Ghats 1

The ghats

Ghats 14

Ganga 4

Ghats 11

Ganga 2

Ghats 3

Ghats 5

Ghats 2

Ghats 7

Ghats 4


Ghats 13

Ghats 12











Tremors of dissent and debate rattle Delhi

What types of speech should a democratic society permit? Can speech be anti-national, and who defines the terms of anti-national speech? What is the role of universities in promoting dialogue around these questions?

These are some of the questions that India has been grappling over the past week, following the arrest of Jawaharlal Nehru University Student Union (JNUSU) president Kanhaiya Kumar on seditions charges. The story has now gone international; the New York Times has published a few articles on it, as has the BBC.

The basic outline of events is this: on February 9 at JNU, a leading Delhi university famous for its passionate leftist political activism, an event was planned to be held to protest the 2013 hanging of Afzal Guru, a Kashmiri separatist convicted for his role in the December 2001 terrorist attack on the Indian parliament. The event, to be held by former members of the Maoist-leaning Democratic Students’ Union (DSU), was denied permission by the university after members of the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP), the BJP’s student wing, informed the university. The DSU then sought the help of the JNUSU and other Left-leaning political groups, such as the All India Students’ Association (AISA) and Students Federation of India (SFI), to gather in support of their right to protest. In the midst of confrontation between ABVP and the other student groups, some slogans were shouted in support of Pakistan, Afzal, and Kashmiri independence. On February 12, police arrested student union president Kanhaiya Kumar on the charge of sedition, which can carry a sentence of three years up to life imprisonment. His request for bail is currently being reviewed by the Supreme Court.

Since then, protests have enveloped JNU as both students and professors struck and police surrounded the campus premises. Government ministers have commented in interviews on the dangers of anti-national rhetoric, and opposition party leaders — including Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi — have spoken out against the arrest. It is impossible to understand the national furor that has erupted over this issue without familiarizing oneself with the national debate about rising intolerance in India. The arrest is coming less than one month after the suicide of Rohit Vermula, a Dalit PhD candidate who was suspended from the University of Hyderabad allegedly as a result of government pressure. To those who are critical of the BJP government, the JNU debacle is the latest episode in a sustained effort to suppress dissenting views.

A mass protest was held today from Mandi House to Jantar Mantar, in the heart of Delhi’s downtown — pictures below. At the heart of it were JNU’s students and their numerous Left political associations. As per JNU students, more than 10,000 people were in attendance at the march.

Here is a nice primer on the different Communist student groups, for those curious about the ins and outs of student politics on JNU. The involvement of the Left in these protests may energize their party members in Kerala and West Bengal, where state elections are to be held in the middle of this year. Stay tuned to see how this issue informs political debate in India, both at the national level and in upcoming state elections.

Protest 1

Protest 5

Protest 2

Protest 4

Protest 3

Protest 6

Protest 7

Amber Fort and research updates

Back after a brief spell from the blogosphere.

I attend the Literature Festival in Jaipur from January 19 to 23. It was a wonderful event, at which I saw Stephen Fry and Atul Gawande speak, but it does get very crowded over the weekend, and unfortunately I was sick for about half of it. On Sunday, we went to the Amber Fort, a Rajput palace that dates back to the sixteenth century. The climb to the top is steep, but the breathtaking view is worth it. It was a short visit to Jaipur–I was hoping to see the Old City as well–but fortunately we will be returning at the end of the month for the Fulbright South Asia research conference.

On the research front, I have been conducting background research on the upcoming state legislative assembly elections to be held in April and May: Assam, Kerala, Tamil Nadu, and West Bengal (Puducherry, a Union Territory, will also be holding elections). Nothing too much related to surveys, just the major political parties, politicians, and issues that will matter in these elections. More on these elections to follow in the coming months, since CSDS will be conducting pre-polls and post-polls for all four.

Also CSDS will be fielding a new national survey of India’s youth in March. I’ve had the opportunity to assist with questionnaire design for this project, which is a follow-up to a national youth survey conducted in 2007. I am hoping I will be able to observe fieldwork for this project.

In the meantime, can we please see some public polls for South Carolina and Nevada?

Amber Fort 3

Amber Fort

Camel at Amber Fort

Amber fort 1

Looking down from Amber Fort

Amber Fort 4

Amber Fort 2

Painted elephant

Solomons in the Land of Kings

This last month was quite a blur, and I am just now catching back up with my correspondences and blog. After returning from Kerala, my parents visited for the first half of the month. The following week I attended the Jaipur Literature Festival. This week I have finally returned to my research.

If the last month was one long race, then surely my parents’ visit was the stretch paced most quickly. Booking a tour through western UP and Rajasthan through the company Wildnest (who did a great job taking care of us), we visited Chambal, Bateshwar, Agra, Fatehpur Sikri, Keoladeo National Park in Bharatpur, Ranthambore National Park, Bhainsrorgarh, Varawal, Udaipur, all before taking a train ride back to Delhi. It was a trip jam-packed with history, cultural exposure, and, as my dad says, “charismatic megafauna.” We saw gharials, crocodiles, tigers, leopards, sloth bears, sambhars, nilgai, civets, mongooses, river dolphins, and more than one hundred species of birds that we had never seen before. Topping it off was our attendance at the wedding of Bharat, one of the owners of Wildnest, in Ghaziabad at the very end.

Most pictures below are mine. Some are my mom’s. The photos of Varawal campsite and of the leopards were taken by Pushpendra Singh.

Drive through Agra, Bateshwar Temples, Chambal, (January 1-2)


Itimad-ud-Dawlah across the Yamuna River in Agra

Taj Mahal from a distance

The Taj Mahal from a distance

Flying foxes

Flying foxes in the trees above Chambal


Birdwatching with Gaj

Bateshwar 1

Bateshwar Temples along the Yamuna River

Bateshwar 2

Turtles on a dead cow

Turtles sit atop a floating dead cow in the Yamuna


With Lord Krishna and Radha

Chambal River

The Chambal River

Sunbathing gharial

A sunbathing gharial

Gharials and crocodiles 1

Crocodiles 2

Chambal River 2

Taj Mahal, Agra Fort, and Fatehpur Sikri (January 3)


The Taj Mahal









Outside the Taj Gate




Fort Agra



View of the Taj Mahal from Agra Fort



Fatehpur Sikri






Keoladeo National Park in Bharatpur (January 4)

Deoladeo 2

Deoladeo 1

Storks in the distance

Deoladeo guide

With Sunil



Ranthambore National Park (January 5-6)


Hanuman langurs



Female nilgai


Male sambhar


Fort Ranthambore


Male peacock


Banyan tree


Rufous treepie



Female sambhars

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Female Bengal tiger





A male sambhar cools himself in mud


Badoli Temples and Fort Bhainrorgarh (January 7)



Badoli Temples



Shiva lingams






Fort Bhainsrorgarh


Bhainsrorgarh river view

Varawal (January 8-9; leopard and campsite photos by Pushpendra Singh)

Copy of Varawal camp Night view



A goshala (cow shelter)


Female Indian leopard with her two cubs





Sunset over Varawal


Sunrise over Jawai Dam




Pushpendra with his father



Udaipur (January 10-11)


City Palace


Lake Palace





Jagdesh Temple 3

Jagdesh Temple

Jagdesh Temple 2

Jagdesh Temple 1


Overlooking the Old City and Lake Pichola

Delhi (January 12-17)

Gurudwara Bangla Sahib

Gurudwara Bangla Sahib



With Shreyas and his father, Ramesh


Arriving at Bharat’s wedding in Ghaziabad