What counts is seldom counted: About Census

Synopsis: The census in India has been postponed due to the pandemic. Such events are rare. This also opens up the opportunity to discuss utility and changes to the census.


It is surprising that while India is debating the caste census, the regular census has not been conducted yet. In fact, it is the first time since the exercise started that a census has not been conducted.

Why census is essential?

The census provides a lot of useful information. It categorizes the data into the residence, age, gender etc. It also provides two units or levels of analysis – individual level and household level. So, the census has great utility as the data generated can be used for evidence-based policymaking.

What are the factors leading to the under or non-utilization of census data?

To begin with we need to improve the design of the census and add more collection points than just name, age, gender etc. The census can be further digitized, which will help in ensuring better quality, coverage and quick results for the survey data.

Its importance is diminished when various ministries carry out their own large-scale surveys. Moreover, all these suffer from the same fundamental flaw that data is not made available in the public domain in time. For example, data on internal migration which was collected in 2011 was only released in 2016-17.

Even after all this, there is a lack of interest by the scientific community in exploring and using this data.

What is the challenge of enumerating caste in the census?

Adding caste to census data will cement caste as an identity in India. This can lead to politicians using the data to patronize the electorate and created/deepen the social divides.

Read more: Caste based census in India – Explained, pointwise
What should be the way forward?

We have to ensure that the data collected has wide acceptability in society, and the issues like having caste data in the census have to be well debated. Further, we should take steps to increase the utilization of census data for evidence-based policymaking.

Source: This post is based on “What counts is seldom counted” published in The Indian Express on 22nd August 2021.

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