India has just completed the biggest census ever attempted in the history of mankind detailing the country's 1.2 billion population and classifying residents according to their gender, religion and occupation.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and his wife Gurcharan being visited by census officials
India’s census commissioner C Chandramouli is a relieved man. He has just finished overseeing one of the world’s biggest ever headcounts comprising information gleaned from more than 240 million households and 1.2 billion people.
An enumerator taking down information from a family in Punjab
"We have toiled for 3 years for this movement," Chandramouli said. "And I think the first satisfaction we get is that there has been an overwhelming response from the people at large. There were times in earlier censuses when entire states could not be covered on account of certain strifes or disturbances. But this is the first time that we have been able to cover the length and breadth of the country without any exception and that is a big satisfaction."
This was the 15th census exercise to be conducted in 2 phases, the first one having been carried out way back in 1872.
The census this year has many firsts to its credit. Foremost among them is the creation of a National Population Register, a database of all ‘residents’ above the age of 15 years.
The NPR will be a biometric database that will include photographs, fingerprints and iris prints apart from relevant demographic information.
A Tamil Nadu Census official stops a female construction worker to question her about housing details
After a spirited debate, this year’s census also included details of a person's caste. Some political parties argued against including caste in the count as it could inflame social tensions and further entrench caste politics. Others felt it could yield a wealth of information that could be used for better governance.
Manzoor Alam, chairman of the Institute of Objective Studies, a Muslim social science research centre, felt including caste was helpful, saying "The census is having an all-India character and that will be giving state-wise and caste wise information. This will also give an idea of which castes are backward and what kind of planning is needed to give special treatment for their development in the fields of education, employment and economy and other areas."
A census official collects information from eunuchs during the second phase of the census in India
Citizens’ access to new technologies like mobiles, computers and internet were also recorded as well as other demographics. Chandramouli explained, "India prides itself on its large number of parameters that we collect during the census. Almost 30 questions are canvassed during the housing census and 29 questions during the second phase which is the population enumeration. So a large variety of questions are asked to cull out the socio-economic plus the demographic and cultural profile once in a decade."
The census in the world's second-most populous country is held every 10 years. China, with a population of 1.3 billion, also has a census every 10 years.
With the field work over, the forms have been transported to data processing centres located in 15 cities across the country. Finalisation of the provisional population figures is expected within a month.
Author: Murali Krishnan
Editor: Grahame Lucas