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  • 00:14

    RITUPARNA BHATTACHARYYA: Hi, I'm Rituparna Bhattacharyya.I'm a Research Consultant and Editorin Chief of the journal, Space and Culture India.With nearly two decades of research and teachingexperience, I bear expertise in gender, sexuality, violence,and development in South Asia.My research findings have started making impactswithin the scholarly community and beyond,

  • 00:36

    RITUPARNA BHATTACHARYYA [continued]: for instance, 'Missing Children of India'is one of my ongoing projects.The findings of this study have not onlybeen published in the journal Asian Social Work and PolicyReview, but also got featured on the front pageof the Danish newspaper, the Christian Daily on 3rdOctober 2019.And subsequently, I was interviewed on

  • 00:57

    RITUPARNA BHATTACHARYYA [continued]: 16th October 2019 by BBC South AsiaJournalist, Imogen Anderson.I rendered voluntary services at Breck Foundationfor capacity building.A public charitable trust of India,and alliance for community capacitybuilding in Northeast India, whichis a UK registered charity.

  • 01:18

    RITUPARNA BHATTACHARYYA [continued]: In this tutorial, I'll be talking about two thingsthat we need before embarking on our journeyto conduct a sensitive public health research in India.I will also talk about the positionalityas a researcher in the field.Moreover, it will also highlight whatto do and not to expect during our field study in India.

  • 01:50

    RITUPARNA BHATTACHARYYA [continued]: While preparing for your research,it is essential to ask yourself a few questions as to,how do I conduct ethical research?How do I collect data?Do I apply qualitative or quantitative methods?How do I maintain the anonymity of the participants?Is my research a sensitive one?

  • 02:11

    RITUPARNA BHATTACHARYYA [continued]: And if so, how do I deal with the potential personal impactof exposure to sensitive topics?And then, what is sensitive research?According to the article 'Doing Sensitive Research'by Dickson-Swift et al.which was published in 2007.The definition of sensitive researchvaries especially across cultures, societies

  • 02:35

    RITUPARNA BHATTACHARYYA [continued]: and nations.Although, the majority of social science researchcould be referred to as socially sensitive,as these studies tend to result in some form of consequences,both positive and negative to both the researcherand the participants.However, some sensitive research on taboo topics,such as domestic violence, street sexual harassment,

  • 02:57

    RITUPARNA BHATTACHARYYA [continued]: abortion, drug abuse could bear dire consequencesto both the researcher and the participants.And can be regarded as risky and dangerous.Again, social science issues like homosexualityand even recognizing malice, whichare considered legal in countries like the United

  • 03:19

    RITUPARNA BHATTACHARYYA [continued]: States, United Kingdom, Australia, France, Belgium,the Netherlands, Brazil, Argentina and even in India.It is still considered as a criminal offensein many other countries like Saudi Arabia, Qatar,United Arab Emirates, and Yemen, where under Sharia law,it is punishable by death.

  • 03:40

    RITUPARNA BHATTACHARYYA [continued]: In 1993, RM Lee developed three forms of threatthat might result from conducting sensitive research.The first one he named it as intrusive threat.When the research tries to examine topics,such as abortion, street sexual assault, domestic violence,

  • 04:00

    RITUPARNA BHATTACHARYYA [continued]: or religious issues, where those resultsare considered by RM Lee as private, stressful, or sacred.The second he named is threat of sanction,where the research examines deviant or criminal behaviorthat might disclose information consideredas illegal, wrongdoing, defaming, or stigmatizing.

  • 04:25

    RITUPARNA BHATTACHARYYA [continued]: These are research on topics, such as drug trafficking,sex trafficking, corruption, and nepotism.Again, the third he named it as political threat.When the research tries to investigateon topics of national security or reveal secret informationof the powerful, such as the political parties,

  • 04:45

    RITUPARNA BHATTACHARYYA [continued]: police or financial management.For example, on 5th of May 2018 Matthew Hedges,a scholar pursuing his PhD at Durham University, UnitedKingdom, was accused of spying in the United Arab Emirates.He was arrested in the Dubai airportand granted life sentence when he

  • 05:08

    RITUPARNA BHATTACHARYYA [continued]: was about to leave the country after completinghis fieldwork on subjects linked to the country's securitypolicies.In November 2018, Matthew was granted gracious clemencyand he arrived in the United Kingdom safely.Arguably, these threats may not be explicitly disconnected,

  • 05:28

    RITUPARNA BHATTACHARYYA [continued]: but overlap each other at times.However, issues like street sexual harassmentor homosexuality, which is potentially sensitiveshould not deliver us from conductingethically sensitive research.Nevertheless, it remains paramountthat the researcher needs to be verycareful about the type of research and information

  • 05:49

    RITUPARNA BHATTACHARYYA [continued]: they want to collect.Ethical approval concording the highest standardsof research integrity is the first step to preparation.The researcher needs to complete an ethical clearanceform for the institution, in addition to undertaking risk

  • 06:13

    RITUPARNA BHATTACHARYYA [continued]: assessment of the proposed fieldwork.This involves identifying potential hazards,examining how they might affect the researcher,evaluating the risk and deciding on whatprecautions the researchers would take to avoid risk.The risk assessment should then beunder constant review during the field

  • 06:34

    RITUPARNA BHATTACHARYYA [continued]: work with contingency arrangements in place,should problems occur.Alongside the ethical approval, itis important to consider some of the practical issuesbefore embarking on the field study.

  • 06:56

    RITUPARNA BHATTACHARYYA [continued]: These practical considerations are obviouslybased on common sense.However, despite being common sense, many a timeit is weakness that researchers tendto ignore the issues inviting inconvenience and difficultiesin their research journey.Before embarking on the field study,the researchers should check that the passport is still

  • 07:18

    RITUPARNA BHATTACHARYYA [continued]: valid, and what vaccinations and health precautions areneeded while traveling to India or other developing countries.If one is taking prescribed medication,a copy of the prescription is required to be carried.Make sure that you have enough money to cover emergencies.It is vital to get comprehensive travel insurance.

  • 07:39

    RITUPARNA BHATTACHARYYA [continued]: Checking that it covers most of the activitiesand the equipment of the research planned to undertake.This would include comprehensive health cover with repatriationby air ambulance, should that be necessary.Undertake a risk assessment and review it regularly.Tell family and friends where you are going

  • 07:59

    RITUPARNA BHATTACHARYYA [continued]: and leave them your contact details, insurance policydetails, and your itinerary.Besides, before embarking on your journey,you'll need to contact the gatekeepers.Also, you will need to arrange for your accommodationduring the field work.It is important that these practical considerationsare essential for any type of field study

  • 08:21

    RITUPARNA BHATTACHARYYA [continued]: and not just in the context of any sensitive research.The success of field work, includingconducting sensitive research depends on many things.Most notably, the confidence, interest and support

  • 08:42

    RITUPARNA BHATTACHARYYA [continued]: of the communities where we conduct our research.And develop a good relationship with the interpreter,field assistant, if any.This is important because it oftenacts as a route to reach data collection helpingus maneuver to dig deeper on a particular topic.This however calls for introspection

  • 09:04

    RITUPARNA BHATTACHARYYA [continued]: on power and positionality of the researcher.The power and positionality, thatis the insider and the outsider status of the researcherare dynamic and subject to change from time to time.When I am in India, I often question myself, who am I?Am I an insider or am I an outsider?

  • 09:24

    RITUPARNA BHATTACHARYYA [continued]: Or am I both or am I none?Indeed, this has been a very complicated question for meto answer.This is because I'm an Indian born British,but I speak multiple Indian languages.Assamese, which is my mother tongue, plus Bengali, Hindi,with basic understanding of Punjabi and Gujarati.

  • 09:45

    RITUPARNA BHATTACHARYYA [continued]: Although, I speak fluent Hindi, but in Hindi speaking belt,I'm considered as an outsider.As my accent of speaking Hindi is different from the locals.Hence, a researcher should be very awareof the similarities and differencesbetween the participants and the researcher himself or herself.

  • 10:06

    RITUPARNA BHATTACHARYYA [continued]: The nuanced issues of similarities and differencesare more likely to emerge as research progresses.For example, the way of looking at or evaluating thingsbased on ethnocentric or eurocentric valuesof the researcher.However, if one is not familiar or understand or speakthe local language, then he/she should learn the language

  • 10:29

    RITUPARNA BHATTACHARYYA [continued]: or hire an interpreter.Researcher safety is an important ingredientof any field work, and not just research on sensitive topics.Traveling in local cities, remote locations in India

  • 10:49

    RITUPARNA BHATTACHARYYA [continued]: could be challenging.Public transport at times might be crowded and unsafe.Figures give glimpses of public transport citybuses of Guwahati city, one of my study areas.However, if you are in one of the Metropolitan citieslike Delhi or Kolkata, you may use metro rail.Hiring a radio taxi from the branded companies like Ola,

  • 11:12

    RITUPARNA BHATTACHARYYA [continued]: Uber and other brands is perceived to be safer thanan ordinary taxi, but cannot be guaranteed.Moreover, when you are in a taxi,it is important to message your family, friend where you areand the car number.Your inheritant anecdote linked to my experienceof keeping myself safe when I was conducting my field

  • 11:35

    RITUPARNA BHATTACHARYYA [continued]: study in 2015 in Kolkata.And when I had to travel from Kolkata to Guwahati via 6:00 AMflight.So as I have already safe in Kolkata,I used to hire a radio taxi to commutefrom one place to another, as these taxis areperceived to be safer than the local yellow taxis.

  • 11:57

    RITUPARNA BHATTACHARYYA [continued]: As I was finishing my field study in Kolkataand were preparing to fly to Guwahati,my flight was booked for--at 6:00 AM, which means I was requiredto reach the airport by 4:30 AM.But in the previous evening when Iran to book a radio taxi for early in the morning at 3:45 AM

  • 12:18

    RITUPARNA BHATTACHARYYA [continued]: for the airport, I was told that itwould be difficult to hire a taxi so early, as a taxibusiness becomes active only after 5:00 AM.Instead, I was advised by them to reachthe airport the previous night itself.According to their advice, I reached at the airportthe previous night itself, carried the sleeping bag,

  • 12:38

    RITUPARNA BHATTACHARYYA [continued]: and slept at the airport waiting room.It is safer to use bottled water than tapped water.You will need to carry anti-diarrhea tabletsand other medicines like analgesic tablets, malariatablets, plus appropriate clothing, shoes, sandals,and all other necessary types of equipment,

  • 12:59

    RITUPARNA BHATTACHARYYA [continued]: including a torch light and candles and mosquito nets.Before embarking on your research journey to India,you'll need to lower your expectations.For instance, you may fail to find adequate public toilet

  • 13:21

    RITUPARNA BHATTACHARYYA [continued]: facilities.Although, the honorable Prime Minister of India launchedSwachh Bharat Abhiyan, or the Clean India Movement,since 2014.Toilet facilities, may not be appropriately cleanedas far western standards.So it is advisable to carry liquid soaps, tissues,

  • 13:44

    RITUPARNA BHATTACHARYYA [continued]: and hand sanitizers.Besides, the streetlights of most Indian cities or townsmight be inadequate and fail to function properly.Though, most cities and towns adhereto the norms of the Ministry of Urban Developmentand provide street lights with every 40 meters bearinga minimum illumination capacity of 35 lux.

  • 14:06

    RITUPARNA BHATTACHARYYA [continued]: However, most of these lights in towns and citiesmight remain either dysfunctional,or the level of performance might remain very poor.With a very low gleaming potency.In addition, you will need to be aware of the local customslaws and other protocols.To avoid cultural shock, one needs

  • 14:26

    RITUPARNA BHATTACHARYYA [continued]: to be aware of Indian culture.Indian culture is a hierarchical culture.So one needs to be careful while addressingpeople older to oneself.In business whatever you wear, but it is important to wear--dress up modestly.

  • 14:51

    RITUPARNA BHATTACHARYYA [continued]: A conclusion; much of the issues outlined in this tutorial videoand dense and in-depth discussionon preparation for conducting sensitive public healthresearch.In this video, we'll foster critical thinkingamongst the researchers, to reflectupon the ethical and other nuanced issuesthat they might encounter while embarking

  • 15:14

    RITUPARNA BHATTACHARYYA [continued]: on their public health research in a developingcountry like India.


Rituparna Bhattacharyya, PhD, Research Consultant and Editor-in-Chief of Space and Culture India, discusses conducting sensitive public health research in India, including research preparations, ethical approval, practical considerations, positionality, steps for safe research, and research expectations.

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Conducting Sensitive Public Health Research in India

Rituparna Bhattacharyya, PhD, Research Consultant and Editor-in-Chief of Space and Culture India, discusses conducting sensitive public health research in India, including research preparations, ethical approval, practical considerations, positionality, steps for safe research, and research expectations.

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