“Happy Diwali and need replacements”

Suman Bhattacharjea

Director (Research), ASER Centre

img-20161028-wa0001Today is the last working day before the Diwali break and there are just a handful of people in ASER Centre to celebrate the upcoming holiday. Everyone else is traveling, either monitoring the ASER 2016 survey or rechecking villages where the survey has been completed.

Earlier today Wilima read out this subject line from an email she had just received – “Happy Diwali and need replacements” – and we shared a laugh and the same thought: this is what makes ASER Centre so special. While across Delhi enormous traffic jams signal the fact that the city’s inhabitants are out shopping in force, ASER teams across the country are busy making sure that the survey goes smoothly and the data collected is accurate.

“Replacements”, as any ASER Centre person knows, are requested when villages that are selected for the survey cannot be surveyed and therefore have to be replaced with others. This may happen because a village has become a town, or is affected by a natural disaster such as a flood, or be considered too dangerous because of Maoist activity. Or perhaps it turns out to be actually across the border in China, not in India at all. A replacement village is not given just because the one originally selected is far away or hard to reach. The ASER team member requesting a replacement must contact Wilima directly and convince her that there is no way that the original village can be surveyed.

 ASER is in the field, but those who stayed behind in Delhi are hard at work too. Master Trainers are called, recheck data is reviewed, report release dates are discussed, survey statistics are updated, stories are uploaded, budgets and expenditures are tracked. New people come back from the field having experienced more of India in a week or two than they had done before in their lives.

ASER is in the field, and one can feel the excitement in the air. As every story on this blog demonstrates, participating in ASER is an incredible way to discover the country; the “ASER effect” on the people who help get it done has a significance that goes far beyond the statistics the survey generates.

So here’s wishing ASER teams, partners, Master Trainers, volunteers and everyone else involved in this enormous effort a very happy Diwali, and hoping that in addition to sharing season’s greetings you have many ASER stories to share.