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Census operations in India

In ancient India, as early as third century B. C., information about the population was collected, but only for administrative purposes. Kautilya in his treatise ‘Arthshastra’ pointed out that for taxation purposes, collection of population statistics was required. He mentioned about methods of collecting population and about agricultural and economic statistics.

During Mughal period in medieval India, extensive records of land, production, population, famines etc were maintained. With the decline Mughal Empire, for sometime, this practice was discontinued.

Again, after British came, British rulers started collecting full record of all its people caste-wise, class-wise, community-wise, age-wise, or gender-wise, habitation-wise, of rural-urban population and collects primary data at ward, village and town level. It collected in detail information about demography, literacy, standards of living, birth, mortality, and languages spoken. After independence, it also reviews country’s progresss and assess the impact of ongoing schemes.

First modern census was conducted between 1865 and1872 in different parts of the country. 1872 is dubbed as the year of first population census in India. In a synchronous way, census operations started once every 10 years from 1881 onwards.  

After consolidating its position, the British government in India made an effort to know about the people, whom they wanted to rule and chalk out strategies for the colonial governance. British anthropologists worked very hard to collect data and catalogue various castes and tribes.

 The first volume of Man in 1901(the Journal of Royal Anthropological Institute) noted, “The entire framework of native life in India is made up of castes and tribes and status and conduct of individuals are, largely, determined by the rules of the group, to which he belonged”.

 It was Census commissioner Risley, who for the first time recorded numerous castes existing in India in 1901 census and put them in hierarchical order. He had fossilized and imparted caste system a solidity, it did not have earlier. Census operations for the first time drew the attention of the rulers, intelligentsia and public towards the diversity of Indian society and multiplicity of castes and sub-castes throughout India.

 However, the rulers used this information in such a way that it instigated caste consciousness and caste animosities. Caste and its ranking became a tool in political, religious and cultural battles that Hindus fought amongst themselves. It started a cut-throat competition between various castes for scarce positions of power and prestige under British Raj.

Last census on caste basis was done in1931. After it, data had not been collected caste-wise. With the intensification of national movement, the practice of collecting caste-wise data stopped. From 1941 onwards, data is compiled pertaining to SCs and STs only.

Now authorities want that for the 15th census of 2011, Government of India should collect caste-wise data of the population, as no authentic data for other castes (which are usually based on sampling surveys) including OBCs is available. The supporters of census on caste-basis argue that 80 years of not having caste censuses has not been able to abolish caste system. Caste is a social reality in India, therefore census for 2011 should have census on caste basis. A large section of society fears that seeing the present scenario, it would further widen caste divide and inter-caste/intra-caste rivalries. Shrewd politicians and pressure groups would try to reap the maximum benefits. For their vested interest, they would pursue more vigorously sectional interests, divide the people for creating vote-banks for themselves. 

 For the 15th census of 2011, recordings will be done by using new age technologies. For the first time, a comprehensive database (known as National Population Register-NPR) of all usual residents of the country will be made. After finalizing the database, every citizen will be given a Unique Identification Number (UID) and an identity card containing basic details.

 

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January 25, 2010 - Posted by | Social and political values and systems |

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