The reliability of oral as well as written history should be questioned. One method could be to look for patterns in what different people are saying about the same issue. All our interviewees have some health issue/s related to the garbage (not present when they lived elsewhere). Their descriptions of how the garbage mountains developed over the years were also similar. We can actually create a timeline to map the growth of the mountain and show how it would look based on that information. Some people were also facing difficulties making election cards and complained that when they approached the government, work was happening very slowly. However, we acknowledge that there are both opinions and facts in interviews. For example a fact could be that before being used as a landfill, this area was a jungle with many trees. However, opinion could be about the faith that different people have in the government. We also noticed a difference while interviewing young and old people. Older people spoke in more detail and with more emotion. This suggests that we should design our questions to bring out people’s lived experiences vs. talking about things hypothetically. A useful distinction to make is between private troubles and public issues. Spatial marginalisation of minorities (lack of access to clean water, infrastructure, healthcare and educational opportunities) is a public issue and should not be dismissed as people’s opinions. Mapping the nearest government hospitals and schools + surveying the state of public infrastructure could prove to be an insightful exercise.
An excerpt from our focus group discussion:
N: Is history more to do with facts or opinion?
H & B: More to do with facts.
N: Does everyone agree that history is about facts?
N: R you don’t agree? Why don’t you agree?
R: I think history is more to do with questions. Like on the first day when we were talking I mentioned that history is all about the mystery. If you want to know something the first thing that comes in your mind is a question mark. What is it? How it became this? So I think that history is all about mystery and question marks. And question marks are the answers of the questions.
N: How do we make sure we’re able to extract some history from what these people are telling us. Like B said there are both facts and opinions.
S: Can we research?
N: That’s a great idea. Not just relying on our interviews. But what kind of research will we do?
R: Facts and fictions – how would we know what’s real? As we had decided we will be taking interviews and comparing them. If the interviewees are speaking the same point it could be true. But at that time if you don’t want to take a chance you can research on the google. And you can ask the corporation team of this community or question to the government. There are rights that any question that people ask to government, government should be answerable to us.
We discussed whether written sources of history (like textbooks and newspaper articles) are necessarily more reliable than oral history (people’s stories). A few cases came up where news items seemed to be conveniently timed around the election. We concluded that reliability should not dependent on the medium of information, but rather on evidence. Evidence can be found by comparing various sources of history. These sources cold be nature (eg. testing water and soil samples). It could be photographs, videos and even paintings (although these can be manipulated). We can look at other artefacts. One of our interviewees moved to this area after narrowly escaping death during the Gujarat riots. While we were walking around, we found a sign saying this area has been gifted to victims of the 2002 riots by the Kerala Association. We can clearly see that the information he gave us during the interview corresponds to the information given by this sign. We decided to keep looking for clues like this in our environment.
One of our interviewees has been collecting newspaper articles over many years, which we now have access to. This week we will be looking at various newspaper clippings and comparing those with our oral history interviews. Will keep you all posted on our observations!