The unheard facts about the Census of India

70 years ago, on 9 February, 1951, India conducted its first census after independence

What is the concept of the Census?

Census is a source to track the country’s success over the past 10 years, monitor the government’s current schemes and prepare ahead. 

Census offers comprehensive and genuine information on demography, economics, literacy and education, homes and household services, urban growth, fertility and deaths, tribal lands, language, religion, migration, disability, etc.

The early Indian censuses not only contain statistical records from early modern India, but also record the British meeting with their colonised subjects. These censuses record the efforts of the coloniser to recognise their colonial subjects and to incorporate India into the British Empire.

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The Census under British India. 

In 1871-72, under British Viceroy Lord Mayo, the first Indian census took place. The census in 1871-72 was the first effort to measure the age, caste, religion, profession, education and disease of each individual throughout India. Berar, Oude and Punjab have been deliberately abandoned during this census. Officials considered spending the money in these areas unnecessary because the regional census was recently measured.

The following eight censuses were characterised by distrust and uncertainty. Different rumours circulated over the Indian people that censuses helped the British implement new taxes, turn the population into Christianity, establish the Military Recruitment Registry or record forced migration. 

The 1931 Census is often termed to be the last British-run census in India since 1941 the Census was significantly constrained due to World War II. The 1941 Census was restricted to only three or four figures, and even these fundamental figures were said to violate specific national or state theologies.

The first Census of Independent India

After the independence of India, the census was assured through the Census of India Act 1948. The act laid down the rules and regulations for the operation of the national census. The Act also made it mandatory for the public to respond faithfully to all censuses while ensuring that their responses remain confidential.

On 9 February 1951, the first Independent India Census was conducted and recorded until 28 February 1951. The nation had 36,10,88,090 inhabitants. The census is held every 10 years and until now it has been recorded 15 times till 2011. The next census is due for 2021. 

Since independence, many individuals and organisations have been using census data for several purposes. The government uses the data to manage, prepare, establish policies and manage and review various public programmes. It is also used to distinguish political districts and appoint parliamentary representatives, state legislatures, and municipal authorities. 

At the same time, the census data found importance to non-governmental entities too. The data is used by companies and industries to prepare the expansion in underutilised areas.

How does the government conduct the census?

A questionnaire is a primary instrument used in the census operations, taking into consideration and understanding the changes that a country needs. The list of questions helps the government to gather all the necessary information regarding the people. Some of the basic questions you can find on almost all census questionnaires is a name, sex, date of birth, age, current marital status, religion, mother tongue and literacy status.

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Background of the census 

  • In the modern era, censuses started with surveys for the city of Allahabad in 1824 by the British authorities. Benares also had a census after that in 1827-28. 
  • The first full census of an Indian city was conducted for Dacca (Bangladesh) by Henry Walter in 1830.
  • In 1865, the Indian government agreed to carry out a general national census in 1871.
  • In 1866-67 in most parts of the world, the actual counting of the heads was taken, which was known as the 1872 census. However, not all territory was covered by this. 17 questions related to name, age, religion, nationality, read/write skill etc were raised in this first country-wide census.
  • Before independence, the last census was seen in 1941. After independence was achieved, the Bhore Committee recommended the government to designate a department head general at the central and provincial level of Vital and Population Statistics.
  • The Census Act came into force in 1948, as per the recommendations made by the Committee. According to the 1948 census act, the 1951 census was carried out.
  • After this census, the Indian National Register of Citizens (NRC) was formulated. 
  • During the 1951 census, the entire state of Jammu and Kashmir was excluded and past figures and statistics were considered for that state.
  • This census showed that 36,10,88,090 people live in the country. The ratio of men to women was 1: 0.946.
  • The average life expectancy was just 33 years. And only 18% of the entire population was literate.
  • According to this census, 72,26,000 people migrated into Pakistan and 72,49,000 people migrated into India, during the partition of India

Highlights of the 15th census in India The 2011 census 

On 1 April 2010, the 15th Indian Census and the 7th Independent India-2011 Census began with the President, who is the first citizen of India, and the Vice President. The slogan for the census 2011 was ‘Our Census, Our future’. The census commissioner for the 2011 census was C. Chandramouli.


  • The total population of India was 121 crores.
  • The population comprises 62.31 crores males and 58.74 crores, females. The absolute increase in population during the last 10 years was 18.19 crores.
  • Population growth during this decade remained 17.7 per cent.
  • The density of population per sq. km. has been 382 persons.
  • The sex ratio for females per 1000 males is 943 females.
  • The child sex ratio for females is 919 per 1000 males.
  • Literacy rate of India has gone up to 73.0 per cent from the previous figure of 64.83 per cent.
  • State with the highest population density- Bihar
  • State with the lowest population density- Arunachal Pradesh
  • State with the highest population- Uttar Pradesh
  • State with the lowest population- Sikkim
  • State with the highest sex ratio- Kerala
  • Union territory with least population- Lakshadweep
  • State with the lowest sex ratio- Haryana
  • State with the highest literacy rate- Kerala
  • State with the lowest literacy rate- Bihar

Updates for 2021 census

The Finance Minister  presented the first digital budget for the economy; she further announced that the Eighth Census of Independent India will be the nation’s first digital census. She further allocated ₹3,768 crore in the budget 2021-22 for carrying out the census in the digital mode

With the rapid development of India’s digitalisation, it will be interesting to watch Digital India’s Census 2021. Only time can tell whether the decision to carry out census in digital mode will be fruitful or not.

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