Gender bias and other non-census


Nivedita Menon in “Run from Big Media”

Quipped my brother Dilip in response to the following mail from my sister Pramada:

So the bell rings this afternoon. desperate clanging. i open the door and there is a man with forms in his hand and a general irritated demeanor. figured that this was the census man. he comes in and settles down. starts by wanting to know who the head of the household is. i say there is no one. he insists. i continue to say no one.

Census of India 2011 mascot

He proceeds to explain that if the parents live in the house, then they are the head of the household, if married then the husband is. I proceed to ask for definition and say that all three of us who live in the house are head of the household since we all earn and take decisions. he promises to erase what he has written since he was sure my mother was head of household.

He seemed to find my gender a bit dubious so questioned my mother if i was a boy or a girl and then repeatedly said “ladki” to me. having established that i indeed was a woman, he wanted to know date of birth, which was not difficult, but place of birth he found extremely challenging. he could not get his spellings right, or did not know districts or states in the country so tattamangalam in palghat district in kerala was as baffling as mysore in karnataka. calcutta was easy to deal with and he said calcutta was in calcutta!!! mother tongue caused him more angst because he had to write malayalam and again the spelling eluded him.

In a casual manner he asked – sabke haath pair to theek hain? ( is everybody’s hands and legs okay?). i realised that this was the question on disability. i said yes that’s all fine but i cannot see without my glasses. that did not count.

Education, marital status were easy-peasy and then the tricky question of employment. he just could not understand what i did and what did i mean when i said i was a consultant and what were NGOs and did i work with these afore mentioned NGOs in haryana. and could i not give him just one name so that he could put it down.

Sujata’s employment was even more difficult for him. counselor on chemical and substance abuse – in hindi its deadly, sharab aur nasheeli padarthon kay sevan karne walon ko in cheezon se mukt karane ki kaam karti hai! asked caste and we said that we did not know since we were urbanised and had to confess that it sounded foolish even to my ears.

The enumerator is a teacher in a school in haryana somewhere but as far as we were concerned, we were aliens who occupied some strange space. a place where he hoped he  or his family would not have to tread. a household where three women rule, where a woman aged 46 says that she is unmarried and is not ashamed, does not for work everyday and i suspect he had not heard of the words human rights – in any language! what do you think he teaches , if he is not sure of the states in the country! mysore was difficult, can you imagine if it was daporijo or mokukchung?

What is the point of being counted thus. he is baffled by the names of villages, states, languages, does not realise that disability is of many forms, that men can look like women and women can look like men…. his world is being torn asunder in this process…were they trained at all and what do you think will actually emerge from this huge effort to have an idea of who lives in this country?

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