Research On The Community By The Community

Shobha Shukla - CNS
India HIV/AIDS Alliance, through a Global Fund supported Pehchan (meaning identity) project is working to build the capacity of 200 Community Based Organizations in 17 Indian states by reaching out to 453, 750 MSM, transgenders and hijras (MTH) using a community driven and rights based approach. Pehchan conducted a cross sectional midline study across 23 districts in 6 Indian states to understand the demographics, behaviour, programme impact and needs of the MTH ensuring protection of rights of these communities by involving them in this research. Active community involvement was prioritised at all steps of the study right from its design to report finalisation. The research instrument was developed using a community led process and the 601 MTH respondents were interviewed by community members and engaged in data analysis and report writing.

Community engagement is central to any operational research done on the community for a variety of reasons as explained by Naveen Kumar Mattipalli, Yadavendra Singh and Abheena Aher of India HIV/AIDS Alliance in a press conference on engagement and facilitation as research strategies with sexual minorities at ICAAP 11. The study helped identify and train researchers from the community and helped in breaking barriers of reaching the respondents, some of who live in closed environments and are otherwise difficult to reach. It increased the comfort level of the MTH respondents as they spoke with their own community members and thus gave deeper insights about current behavioural patterns of the MTH and helped in exploring sensitive issues like internalised stigma, disclosure of identity and marital status, sexual reassignment surgery and violence. Community involvement not only facilitated community friendly field investigation, but also resulted in depth and critical analysis with increased awareness of community concerns. This ensured overall quality and accuracy of the study while protecting the rights of the MTH respondents.

In the beginning the research agency involved in the process was rather sceptical about the ability of the community members, but very soon it had to change its opinion seeing their amazing capability. This judicious mix of mainstream researchers and community members helped in cross sharing of ideas and improving sensitivities by bringing both on a common platform. More such exercises are the needed to give an identity to the invisible sections of the society and help in community system strengthening by giving the communities ownership of programmes meant for their welfare.

Shobha Shukla, Citizen News Service - CNS
November 2013

Note: This article was first published in 11th ICAAP INSIGHT, the official daily conference newspaper of 11th International Congress on AIDS in Asia and the Pacific (11th ICAAP) in Bangkok, Thailand. This newspaper was managed by Inis Communication and CNS.