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.
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
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),
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
Inden, Ronald, Imagining India, Oxford; Cambridge, Basil Blackwell,
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,
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,
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.