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Census: 2001- Do we need an exercise in data interpretation?

By: Kunal Sharma (Student Career Launcher) History of the Indian census: The Indian census, conducted every ten years, is a massive national administrative exercise. There are very few countries in the world with a history of an uninterrupted decennial census going back to 1881. The 2001 census was the 14th in a row and the 6th after attaining Independence. Census 2001- Salient facts and figures: The census confirmed that we were a nation of more than a billion. At the last count on March 1, 2001, we were 1,027,015,247! The census covered 20 million households spread over 6.5 lakh villages and 5500 towns and cities during the 25-day exercise. The decennial growth rate of population is 21.34 % during 1991-2001 as compared to 23.85 % for the previous decade. It is estimated that even at this rate of growth, India will overtake China by 2050 to become the most populous country in the world. Kerala had the lowest growth rate of 9.42 % while Nagaland was the highest with 64.41 % growth rate. In 2001, the density of population in India was 324 persons per sq. km. showing an increase of 21.3 % from 1991. India's diversity is put in perspective when we see that the density is 13 in Arunachal Pradesh and 9294 in Delhi. Among the states, density is highest in West Bengal (904). The sex ratio is 933 females per 1000 males, showing a rise of 6 points from 927 per 1000 males in 1991. The only exception where the fairer sex outnumbers their counterparts is the state of Kerala which has 1058 females for every 1000 males. The average birth rate was 31.7 % against a death rate of 11 % in 1981-1991, while during the subsequent decade, crude birth rate is projected at 4.8 % as against a crude death rate of 8.9 %. Literacy and education are normally taken as major parameters in judging the growth and development of a nation. The literacy rate has shown an increase from 52.19 % in 1991 to 65.38 % in 2001. Kerala has done phenomenally to top the states with a literacy rate of 90.92 %. Bihar has an abysmal literacy rate of 47.53 % and lies at the bottom of the table. The Controversy: It was sparked off when the Registrar- General of the Census made public the report of the 2001 census. In his report, released in presence of the media, he showed the population growth rate of the Muslims as 32 % showing a significant increase in the growth rate over the previous census figures. The very next day, the BJP spokesperson Mr. Venkaiah Naidu addressed the press and stated that the Muslim community should control the population growth rate. The data released by the Registrar- General was fast snowballing into a major issue of contention and it was obvious that Muslim organizations would not sit quiet for long. The Government would have to quickly set about in a damage control exercise. Did these figures really represent an imbalance in the population growth rate of the different communities? Amidst all this hullabaloo and bedlam, the critical data that should have been considered was not conveyed to the media. Most of us had forgotten that the states of Jammu and Kashmir and Assam were not part of this humungous administrative exercise in 1991! It is nothing but a wellknown fact that a majority of the population of the state of Jammu and Kashmir is Muslim. Now, it doesn't need an Einstein to figure out why the figures put forward to the media by the Registrar General of the census did not hold any statistical significance from point of view of the population growth rate of the Muslims. In fact, if we eliminate the statistics of Jammu and Kashmir and Assam from the census of 1991 purely to derive some statistical inference out of the data assimilation exercise, it is found that the Muslim population growth rate has in fact dropped to 29 %! The big question? : So, don't you think that we all need a lesson in data interpretation? I feel that the people analyzing the census data definitely do! Now come on, let us be realistic. It is like

believing that the sun has risen from the West if you tell me that the Registrar- General of the census made an error in the report circulated to the media! For an exercise on such a massive scale, don't you find it hard to believe that the man holding the "responsible" post of the RegistrarGeneral of the census could give such misleading data to the press? It could have led to so much had the error not been rectified as soon as it was. The Government can conduct as many enquiries it wants to but the first step it should take is to remove such an irresponsible official from the post. Whether the data was distorted due to political interferences is another question altogether. In this case, your guess is as good as mine!

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