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Census of India Reports from 1871 to 1901


1 Report on the 1871 Census of India
2 Report on the 1881 Census of India
3 Report on the 1881 Census of India, Volume II: statistics
4 Report on the 1881 Census of India, Volume III: extracts
5 Report on the 1891 Census of India
6 Report on the 1901 Census of India

Find Text in Census Reports [and other documents on this web site]

An Introduction to the Indian Census

By: Adam Bowles

The Indian Census had two immediate precursors. On the one hand the regional gazetteers, censuses and regional surveys in India, and on the other the British decennial censuses beginning with the 1801 census. Both of these historical antecedents of the Indian Census have their foundation in the 'statistical movement', which gathered great momentum in Britain in the 18th and 19th centuries. While this movement, at least as it led to the accumulation of social statistics, had the administrative purpose of more efficiently matching state resources to social needs (note the strict etymology of 'statistics'), in the colonial context its manifestation in the early Indian Censuses can not be divorced from Britain's colonisation of India. The gathering of statistical data inevitably requires a procedure of classification. With the early Indian Censuses the process of classifying social institutions and structures led to the creation of an authoritative representation of Indian society. That the Indian Censuses were a product of the colonial encounter becomes even more notable in the proliferation of ethnographic essays in the early Indian Censuses, a feature that may appear strange to us now, prepared as we are by our experience of contemporary censuses for dry collections of numbers arranged in neat tables. The early Indian Censuses, therefore, present not merely as statistical accounts of early modern India, but also as documentation of the British encounter with its colonised other; as documentation of the coloniser's attempts to come to an understanding of its colonial subjects and integrate India – at least from an administrative perspective – within the British Empire.

Further Reading:

Statistical Movement/British census
Cullen, M.J., The statistical movement in early Victorian Britain: the foundation of empirical social research, Hassocks, Harvester Press [etc.], 1975.
Glass, D.V., Numbering the people: the eighteenth-century population controversy and the development of census and vital statistics in Britain, Farnborough, D.C. Heath, 1973.
MacKenzie, Donald A., Statistics in Britain, 1865-1930: the social construction of scientific knowledge, Edinburgh, Edinburgh University Press, 1981.

Indian Census

Barker, N. Gerald (ed.), The Census in British India: New Perspectives, New Delhi, Manohor, 1981.
Bates, Crispin, 'Race, caste and tribe in Central India: The early origins of Indian anthropometry,' in P. Robb (ed.), The Concept of Race in South Asia, New Delhi, OUP, 1995, pp.219-59
Bayly, Susan, Caste, Society and Politics in India from the Eighteenth Century to the Modern Age, The New Cambridge History of India IV.3, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1999. (Esp. ch.3.)
Bayly, Susan, 'Caste and 'race' in the colonial ethnography of India,' in P. Robb (ed.), The Concept of Race in South Asia, New Delhi, OUP, 1995, pp.165-218.
Blair, Harry W., 'Caste and the British Census in Bihar: Using Old Data to Study Contemporary Political Behaviour,' in Barker (ed.), The Census in British India, pp.149-74.
Chakrabarti, Dilip K., Colonial Indology: Sociopolitics of the Ancient Indian Past, New Delhi, Munshiram Manoharlal, 1997. (Esp. ch.2.)
Cohn, Bernard, 'Notes on the History of the Study of Indian Society and Culture,' in An Anthropologist among the Historians and Other Essays, Delhi, OUP, 1987, pp.136-171.
Cohn, Bernard, 'The Census, Social Structure and Objectification in South Asia,' in An Anthropologist among the Historians and Other Essays, Delhi, OUP, 1987, pp.224-54.
Dirks, Nicholas B., 'The invention of caste: civil society in colonial India,' Social Analysis 25 (1989), pp.42-52.
Dirks, Nicholas B., 'Castes of Mind,' Representations 37 (1992), pp.56-78.
Guilmoto, Christophe, The Sircar's Idle curiosity: critical evaluation of Tamil Nadu's demographic sources, 1871-1981, Madras, Madras Institute of Development Studies, 1988.
Hodson, T.C., India. Census ethnography, 1901-1931, New Delhi, Usha Publications, 1987.
Inden, Ronald, Imagining India, Oxford; Cambridge, Basil Blackwell, 1990.
Jones, Kenneth W., 'Religious Identity and the Indian Census,' in Barker (ed.), The Census in British India, pp.73-102.
Kitts, Eustace J., A compendium of the castes and tribes found in India: compiled from the (1881) census reports for the various provinces (excluding Burmah) and native states of the Empire, Gurgaon, Haryana, Academic Press, 1982.
Maheshwari, Shriram, The Census Administration under the Raj and after, New Delhi, Concept Publishing, 1996.
Martin, Richard B., 'Bibliographic Notes on the India Census,' in Barker (ed.), The Census in British India, pp.61-72.
Moore, J. Daniel, 'Plantation Labor in Mysore 1871-1841: An Historical Approach to Migration Analysis,' in Barker (ed.), The Census in British India, pp.1-40.
Newell, Richard, 'The Census as a Tool in the Study of Modern Urban Labor Forces in India: A Case Study from Tamilnad,' in Barker (ed.), The Census in British India, pp.175.
Natarajan, D., Indian census through a hundred years, Census centenary monograph No.2, New Delhi, Office of the Registrar General, 1972-73.
Oddie, G.A., 'Christians in the Census: Tanjore and Trichinopoly Districts, 1871-1901,' in Barker (ed.), The Census in British India, pp.119-48.
Padmanabha, P., Indian Census and Anthropological Investigations, Delhi, Controller of Publications, 1983.
Pant, R., 'The cognitive status of caste in colonial ethnography,' Indian Economic and Social History Review 24.2 (1987), pp.145-62.
Schwartzberg, Joseph E., 'Sources and Types of Census Error,' in Barker (ed.), The Census in British India, pp.41-60.
Srivastava, S.C., Indian Census in Perspective, Census centenary monograph No.1, New Delhi: Office of the Registrar General, India, 1983.
Viswanathan, Gauri, Outside the Fold: Conversion, Modernity, and Belief, Delhi, OUP, 1998. (Esp. ch.5.)

Note that the reports do not contain data on individuals names and addresses but are general summaries of information related to the data collected in the census of the years 1871-2, 1881, 1891 and 1901.


The idea of digitising Census reports was made by Professor Robin Jeffrey of La Trobe University.

The materials for the 1871, 1881, and 1901 census reports were sourced and digitised into word documents by The Centre for Data Digitisation and Analysis at The Queen's University of Belfast. The HTML files were created for this site from the Word files by Adam Bowles at La Trobe University. The website design and implementation and the programming to turn the individual HTML files into database tables was done by Peter Friedlander at La Trobe University.


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Last Updated: 25 July, 2006

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