30 April 2010

Counting heads

What costs 60 billion rupees, uses up 11 million tons of paper, concerns 240 million homes in 7000 towns and 600,000 villages and takes 11 months to complete by 2.5 million officials?

Answer: the 2011 Indian census!

India is the country with the second biggest population in the world (after China of course). Counting close to 1.2 billion people takes time, human resources and even paper.

Since April 1st, government officials and schoolteachers on their summer breaks are visiting each and every household in the country over the next 11 months to gather information for the 2011 census. From residential compounds to apartment blocks and shantytowns to footpaths, each of India’s 240 million households will be visited by an election official. They will be asked to answer 15 basic questions on their identity, date of birth, marital status, occupation, address etc., as well as 35 questions asking what kind of building material their homes are made of, if they have access to drinking water, electricity and toilets, and whether they have possessions like a mobile phone and personal computer.

Every person over the age of 15 will also be photographed and fingerprinted and given a national identification number.

Collecting and processing the personal details of over a billion people is no easy task. That’s why a sophisticated data electronic processing system is in place. Dr C Chandramouli who is in charge of the 2010 census seems to be proud of the Indian census which has been taking place since 1872:

“In terms of history, our census is the oldest. We were the first to use the Integrated Character Recognition Technology (ICRT) to scan the filled census forms and tabulate the data. We get delegations from countries like Indonesia, Bhutan, Bangladesh and Nepal. And many of our retired census experts go to countries like Sudan and Ethiopia as consultants. We don't need to go anywhere to get trained as our methods are largely followed across the world. In the developed world they don't go from house to house, instead, they mail the forms to people… This can work in countries where everyone has an address.”

There was much debate in parliament whether a question on caste should be included in the census with many right wing parties insisting it should be. Last month the home secretary declared that caste will not be included in the census. Only ‘scheduled castes’ and ‘scheduled tribes’ will be recorded since these groups fall under the reservation system.

Despite this, my friends A & S were asked to volunteer information on their religion and caste. When they asked why this information was being asked of them they were told it was mandatory!

In the meantime the caste debate seems to continue in the papers who are also calling the 2010 census “the biggest-ever census attempted in the history of mankind.”

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