This is Not an Excursion, This is a War

I was just wondering just like other novices what it was going to be! My heart was beating, my legs shivering, and my whole body was trembling. But somehow, inside of me, a secret voice was telling me, “Everything is going to be okay”. I was not alone. A group of twelve researchers was heading towards the northern part of Bangladesh. Believe me; I am not going to tell you a story but the experience of my first field visit with Development Research Initiative (dRi) researchers. To me being a researcher is being a respondent or participant first, since, almost all of us in a different part of our life pass through this stage or some of our family members pass through this stages.

It was a hot day. The torrid sun was burning above our head even in the morning. We were expecting a downpour. We, the twelve members, were divided into three clusters and headed for three different Unions. Going to the field was easy but finding respondents was not that easy. Moving to and fro in an alien land and calling here and there we got our respondents. To my surprise, I was supposed to interview a UP chairman. Unfortunately, the chairman according to rumor was a widower and supporter of Bangladesh National Party. Hence, acting amidst the members of the ruling party was a big challenge for him than those of us who were going to interview him. He was a moon in a sunny day. Rumors say that he never comes to the Union Parishad. The rumor that made all of us perplexed that he (The Chairman) was abandoned by three of his wives. However, this womanless man was out of our reach since he was unavailable in his home and cell phone. Being depressed, we hoped for another member of UP. When we did explain him about our motive he was little bit shy and suggested us to talk to the Union Parishad secretary. We headed with him to the UP office. The chairman’s room was closed. Beside the chairman’s room, there was a small room allocated for the secretary. Our entrance into the UP office was not taken as a good omen. As presumed, the sectary took us to be journalist and thought that we were searching for flaws and drawbacks inside the UP office. However, we clarified our position and he wanted to talk to us but warned us that the conversation cannot be held more than ten minutes. After interviewing him, we started searching for respondents enlisted by the authority.

 

We were working on a sensitive issue related to the sexual and reproductive health of married adolescent girls. It was the month of Ramadan. So, it is easy to imagine rural people, being so devoted and indulged in religious activities would deny our proposition and instead remain alone in contemplation and self-denial. However, researchers are actors and can manage situation more adverse than these. We were capable in findings respondents as well as information from them. Here I am making a brief presentation of the happenings that took place during the tenure of our field visit.

 

The first day that I narrated before was challenging since the respondents were difficult to find. As a surprise, the second day came as a blessing. The morning downpour made the environment calm and relaxing even though getting a vehicle to reach our destination was difficult. However, we managed somehow. I was assigned to make some interviews with journalist, government officials, UP members, and husband of married adolescent girls. I cannot be subjective in making any conjecture but if I had the opportunity to be then I would say people in the rural areas know better than the government officials in some way. The government officials, with no work at hand denied us even for a couple of minutes whereas the poor laborer, whatever time they had, shared some of it with us. I would always posit the female respondents over the male since males are more difficult to manage. In some point they ask for money for their time. A respondent (Husband of married adolescent girl) said, “We have work to do. What is the point of talking to you if I do not have any monetary benefit?” Yet, some respondents behaved positively and responded spontaneously.

 

The funniest part of data collection was interviewing government officials. Getting an appointment and making him/her understand about the project details will cost the researcher more than the expenditure of a war. Without highlighting their names on the national dailies they barely think of giving an interview rather spend their time in the air-conditioned room with drowsy eyes seeking for salvation! If fortunately they agree to answer the questions they only utter the word, “hmm, isn’t it? Oh! It’s awful!”  But surely, not more than these! I do recognize that there are some officials who are different but exception is not an example! However, we found whatever we were destined to find.

 

Interviewing the husbands of married adolescent girls were another challenge but, of course, it was easier than interviewing govt. officials. It seems that media and other means of communication has settled their mentality to answer some specific things for particular question. What media has told them has become their own answer and they, intentionally do not like to answer anything other than these (What they learned from media) since they fear that their identity could be revealed. In most cases they doubt researcher, their identity, who they are, why they are asking those questions.  This enigma make the researcher to fall in a perplex situation. Too much time asking the same question again and again to get a specific answer make the respondent exasperated and annoyed. I personally used a tactic to get rid of this problem. Whenever the responded get annoyed I used to skip question and led the conversation to a different line. Understanding the psychological structure of the respondent is important since asking particular question depend largely on that.

 

I was making an In-depth interview with a husband of married adolescent girl and asked him why he did marry a girl of younger age. After a dramatic gesture he said, “Kachi maiyar ekta alada vab thake.” (Younger girls have a special flavor). He generally could have avoided my question but somehow little discussion made him say what he really think about the matter. In a Focus Group Discussion (FGD), a husband of married adolescent girl responded that he does not beat his wife. I asked him why. He said, “Last time I beat my wife to a level that she became senseless and I had to take her to hospital. That cost me more than ten thousand taka. After that day I do not beat my wife.” To this man beating wife leads to monetary loss and only for that reason he does not beat his wife but his tongue as other responded said so sharp to make his wife do whatever he wants her to do!

 

Ten days we passed interviewing the target groups. Many things came out. Many things did not come. Amidst all of these, hanging on an auto car, or a van was something that gave us strength. It was kind of adventure yet I do not call it an excursion or adventure but a war. A war that make us alive. A war that help us to get inside of people living in the fringe. A war that take us to the very core of a society.  A war that make us one with the greater society. A war that make us true human being by getting ourselves acquainted with the roots. 

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Name : James Sujit Malo
Email : sujitsocunivdu@gmail.com

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