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The politics of Indian census data September 24, 2015

Posted by southasiamasala in : India, Kumar, Vikas , comments closed

Vikas Kumar

Indian governments spend enormous resources to collect data — including 12 billion and 22 billion rupees on decennial censuses in 2001 and 2011, respectively. Yet they appear reluctant to release it. The latest decennial census data on religion, for example, which were released on 25 August 2015, were collected almost half a decade ago in 2011.

During the past 15 years, governments of both national parties have on more than one occasion deferred to political expediency on the question of releasing demographic data disaggregated by communities. In the process governments have contributed to the politicisation of statistics. The troubled past of the census data on religion reveals systemic problems insofar as the statistical wing of the government is insufficiently insulated from politics. (more…)

Understanding India’s demographic transition November 27, 2013

Posted by southasiamasala in : India, Jha, Raghbendra , comments closed

Raghbendra Jha

Rising incomes, increasing levels of education — particularly in women — and a variety of social factors contribute to determining the demographic profile of India’s youth and their role in India’s demographic transition.

India’s 2011 census revealed two key trends regarding India’s demographic transition. The first is that the total fertility rate has dropped from 2.9 in 2001 to 2.62 in 2011. And the second is that the gender balance has deteriorated in recent times, particularly among India’s youths. The number of girls per 1000 boys, for age groups 0–4, 5–9 and 0–6, fell from 939 to 891, 920 to 889, and 927 to 914 respectively.

The first trend is usually taken as an indicator of the demographic transition associated with rising per capita income. The second trend, however, may point to the growing widespread gender imbalance that is taking place in India. There is evidence to suggest that sex selection tests exist in India and follow-up abortions are more likely to be carried out if the fetus is found to be female. One study uses household-level data from India’s National Sample Survey (NSS) for 1993–94 and 2004–05 to identify characteristics that increase the chance of feticide, something that the Census data alone cannot identify. The study found, ironically enough, that women with higher levels of education, as well as women from wealthier households, are more likely to contribute to India’s gender imbalance. Only when the level of education and wealth combined reach a relatively high level does the gender imbalance start receding. This implies that over time there will be fewer women than men among India’s youth.


Census and caste: debating caste enumeration in Census 2011 June 11, 2010

Posted by southasiamasala in : Dash, Kamala Kanta, India , comments closed

Kamala Kanta Dash

The Indian census is a decennial exercise started by the British colonial power in 1872.  It has been religiously followed ever since. The 2011 census, the 15th since the first and the 7th after independence, is touted to be the biggest ever in the history of mankind. This mammoth exercise will cover all 640 districts, 5,767 tehsils, 7,742 towns and more than six hundred thousand villages of the country. More than 2 million primary teachers have been trained to act as enumerators for this census. It  would count more than 1.2 billion people on their socio-economic characteristics including gender, religion, occupation and education. The debate about whether to include ‘caste’ in the 2011 census or not has divided the political and academic spectrum alike.

Collection of caste-based data was stopped after 1931 and independent India has been reluctant to collect such data, except in the case of  people in ‘Scheduled Caste’ (popularly known as Dalits) and ‘Scheduled Tribe’ (popularly known as Adiwasis) categories. However, the debate over the caste census has not ended. The search for a model is on. The incumbent government is a divided house, as also is the opposition party, the BJP. In the cabinet, P Chidambaram and Anand Sharma have shown their disagreements and reservations on the possibility of carrying out the caste enumeration, while other cabinet ministers like Jaipal Reddy, Veerappa Moily, Farooq Abdullah and A. Raja, have talked about the need to do so.  Those who oppose the caste census claim that the census is not an “ideal instrument” for a caste survey and favour the idea that another appropriate body, such as the Backward Commission, being entrusted with this responsibility. This argument can be seen in the pattern of political responses of the incumbent government, when they cite one reason or the other for not conducting the caste enumeration. (more…)