Data vs. perception

This is what Surjit Bhalla wrote some ten days ago, on 28 November 2015

There’s consistent talk that over the last year or so, communal tensions and intolerance have increased. Although data on communal violence doesn’t support this inference, it would be wrong to infer that intolerance in India is not at its peak today, a year after Modi and the BJP assumed power.  [Link]

A day earlier, on November 27, 2015, Pratap Bhanu Mehta had written this:

It is then countered with the false scienticism — look, the number of violent incidents has not risen dramatically, and so forth. As a piece of social science, this can be important. But data often tells yesterday’s story. We forget that averages are not helpful in assessing specific threats and experiences, and there is no data that can capture the suffocation that discourse can produce. [Link]

What both of them – they are researchers/social scientists – fail to appreciate is that it is objectively impossible to prove that the perception was not the manifestation of living inside a self-feeding echo chamber.

In other words, they may be having that perception now. So, what they write may be really what they are feeling and not are faking it. But, it will be impossible to separate, objectively, the causes of the perception.

For example, they cannot say if their perception of fear and insecurity would have been formed even if the media had not spun every attack on the Church as the doing of the ‘mad, intolerant goons of the Hindu Right’.

Ms. Barkha Dutt ‘confessed’ in a town-hall discussion in May 2015 that the media did not do a proper job of its investigations of attacks on the churches before the elections to the Delhi Assembly and that it jumped to conclusions. Here is the link and watch the ‘confession’ at 23:50. Almost all of the attacks on Churches had motives other than intolerance or communal motives. That the retraction or confession was made rather quietly and in a wholly disproportionately insignificant manner relative to the original reports is one point to note and the second is to acknowledge the self-feeding frenzy that it created with people like Julio Ribeiro, Errol D’Souza – just two names that came to my mind – expressing a sense of insecurity as members of ‘minority’ community.

Neither Mr. Bhalla nor Mr. Mehta – or, for that matter, any one  – can say that exaggerated news-reports and articles which were based on those news-reports did not influence their perceptions. It is impossible to prove that their perceptions were independently formed. It is a cognitive impossibility.



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