Counting of a billion-plus people in India in 2011

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2011 Census – the 15th one since the exercise began in 1872 is a fascinating statistical exercise in itself — geographic and demographic. It would also be inherently interesting. Call it a salad bowl or melting pot or plain bouquet, India’s population is the perfect brain-teaser for a social science researcher.

Work on India’s 2011 Census — the 15th one since the exercise began in 1872 and the seventh one since Indepen-dence — will begin on April 1. It will involve the literal enumeration of about 1.2 billion people. The 2001 figure was 1.02 billion. It is a fascinating statistical exercise in itself — geographic and demographic. Even if there was no other use for this data — and that is not the case by any means — it would be inherently interesting. Call it a salad bowl or melting pot or plain bouquet, India’s population is the perfect brain-teaser for a social science researcher.

The question that arises is not whether the census exercise is to be lauded or berated, but about its larger relevance. A decadal counting of heads looks obsolescent when data can be, and needs to be, updated every instant, given the elaborate and sophisticated communication apparatus we have on hand. To be sure, policies cannot be formulated on the basis of an ever-changing baseline. That is why the decadal count is both necessary and useful.

What needs to be asked is whether there is a need to get more out of the counting exercise without throwing overboard the existing parameters. The additional information that is being promised to be sought in this census is about holding a bank account, owning of a mobile phone and access to the Internet.

This would, of course, diversify the population profile, but perhaps there is need to ask for something more to get an accurate picture of the people and society.

Caste is one such issue. Home secretary G.K. Pillai has firmly ruled out including information about caste, except that of scheduled castes (SCs) and scheduled tribes (STs). It looks like an enlightened position, but caste still seems to be a huge fact in society, not only among the Hindus but also Sikhs, Christians and Buddhists.

Muslim society is also riddled with caste distinctions. If caste numbers are not used as criterion for entitlements, it could be a useful social feature of the census.

Similarly, it will be useful and rewarding to know the tremendous heterogeneity in terms of sects and sub-sects within each faith group. In short, the census need not be reduced to a monotonous exercise in counting. It can be mined for richer social detail.
Courtesy: DNA India

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