Few quantitative researchers share their field experiences (for one of those rare moments, see the contribution by Ping Lin). Perhaps this is because they are invested in large teams of enumerators, who collect data across large sample sizes. However, the process is far more complicated than just getting a team together to collect the data. There are several subtle challenges at every stage of fieldwork, much of which is often unexpected. This is often because these challenges are not freely and frequently shared or discussed. My identity as a positivist, quantitative researcher was put to test every single day of my fieldwork given the dynamic, unpredictable and often haphazard settings across the districts of Mangolpuri and Sultanpuri situated in West Delhi, India, write Aditi Bhutoria.
In association with a Non Governmental Organisation (NGO), which acted as the implementing agency, I conducted a randomized control trial with women-only savings groups (involving a sample of 1281 women). The study aimed to measure the impact of a financial education program on savings and other financial behaviors. The program was relatively light (a day of training), offered in non-formal community settings and was a significant departure from more costly traditional classroom style adult education interventions. This is because it was based on simple rules of thumb involving a goal-oriented, action-focused learning, which targeted behavioural change. Limited time, limited funds (doctoral fieldwork grant), substantial sample size and most importantly ‘me being a girl’, were enough reasons to make me concerned about going into the field, one of the largest resettlement colonies of Delhi. Hearing the participants’ stories of violence, hardship or strength and personally staying detached, resisting help even when most needed to avoid bias or innovating new techniques to optimize resources – taught me much about life and perhaps my own self as an individual and a female researcher.
On the Geographical Context
Mangolpuri and Sultanpuri (see Figure 1 below) are among the oldest and the largest resettlement colonies in India, established way back in 1977. These are also amongst the most highly populated areas of western sub-urban Delhi. The majority of the population in this area comprises old migrants from the poorest states of India. This is largely non seasonal migration, flowing in from under developed states or areas with limited economic opportunities to fast developing areas, which provide higher wages and prospects for an improved socio-economic status. Today this area is a combination of an industrial hub and residential colonies, and falls within the city with well-connected roads, local transport, basic water supply and sanitation facility, electricity and other basic facilities for a modest living.
Like most other urban resettlement colonies in Delhi, Mangolpuri and Sultanpuri also lie at the geographical periphery of the capital city. There has been a disparity in economic growth between the city center and the peripheries, with the latter converting to an agglomeration of slums and government built resettlement housings. The changes in spatial structure of the city over the years along with growth of manufacturing industries in these peripheral areas, has led to severe environmental concerns for the population residing in the resettlement colonies (Kundu, 2012). A rising demand for labor to work in the adjoining industrial areas has also led to intense population pressures. This has been coupled with unorganised development and little policy attention from the local government. As a result there has been a gradual degeneration in the living conditions and economic status of the resettlement colonies.
Interestingly, both Mangolpuri and Sultanpuri areas constitute of multiple parallel lanes, which are crowded with a motley collection of kutcha and pukka houses. Women from each lane usually come together to form their own savings groups and the research was conducted with these groups.