The problem I have with Census 2011

The Census lady just visited my house in Delhi with her long list of questions. With every question, I felt more and more disconnected with our government’s thinking and also angry. In their need to compartmentalize our beautifully diverse population, the government is killing our multiplicity—or wants to. You will be forcefully put in one compartment or the other and sadly have no choice about the matter. Here’s what five minutes of interacting with the census lady told me. Be prepared for a mental onslaught when the Census probe comes knocking by your door!

  1. The census begins by asking you who is the HEAD of the family section—which of course is assumed to be a man. I wonder what happens in the household with only women? All the other people living in the house are made relatives of the said ‘Head’ of the family. How can a government which is talking about Women equality and creating bills and laws to protect its women be so patriarchal in its forms? I always had a problem with the forms which asked Father/Husband only – as if a woman cannot exist alone. Always made by a male babu of course.
  2. The next question is RELIGION with six choices – Hindu, Muslim, Sikh, Christian, Jain and Buddhist. If you don’t have a religion, I am sorry but you cannot exist for our dear government.

    Boxed in by your caste
  3. The major issue which a lot of us coffee-house argumentative so-called-intellectuals have been talking about since months is the fact that we don’t want to give out our CASTE. We always hoped (without any action of course) that the government will be sensible enough to give us a choice of NO CASTE. That’s the third question and no, before you ask me, you don’t have a choice of saying NO CASTE. If you say so, the census lady will simply have to put one you depending on your mother tongue. You have to belong to a CASTE else you simply don’t exist for the votes that the government in power needs.

After these three initial questions, I was too emotional (and too scared) to read more of the census questions. It’s unfortunate when you start to see our government deliberately chopping our diverse society into cubes of castes. Our freedom fighters and social reformers must be turning in their graves. This is their nightmare come true.

8 Replies to “The problem I have with Census 2011”

  1. The instructions given to the census taker read:

    “While making entry for any religion other than Hindu, Muslim, Christian, Sikh, Buddhist and Jain, record fully the actual religion as returned for the person under this question. In such a case no entry needs to be made in the box meant for recording Code number. If the person says that she/he has no religion, record ‘no religion’. In this situation too, the box provided at the right of this column would be left blank for use in the office at a later stage. You should not enter into any argument with the household for recording entry under this question. You are bound to record faithfully whatever religion is returned by the respondent for herself/himself and for other members in the household.”

    I guess, the census taker who visited your house wasn’t knowledgeable enough! “Others” has always been an option. I do wish they would list “Non-religious” as an option, though.

    1. Hi Utkarshraj
      I assume that you quote from instructions given to the Census-takers. And yes, this wasn’t told to me. What I am most afraid of is that someone in the babudom will add a religion/caste even if I make specific demand that I want that column to be left blank. You see, blanks are not generally acceptable by the government. Of course, I dont agree with the caste-taking exercise at all, but that might be my personal view.

      1. Yeah, that was from instructions given to the census-takers.

        Incidentally, I posted this on reddit, and one of the readers says that the census guy didn’t ask his/her family about caste or religion – “That’s not part of this survey, he told us.” I guess they’ll automatically fill these fields depending on the person’s surname or locality!

        We’re living in a society that is still plagued by the ghosts of caste and religion from our past. But, if you look at the history of instructions (about the “religion” field) given to the census-takers over the years, things have actually improved in the past few years. Hopefully, a caste census won’t come in our way, as our society tries to drop the caste baggage.

        1. tht’s quite interesting Utkarshraj. I am also hoping that information will improve things. But I am afraid (and cynical) that more information about caste will lead to more reservations and divisions in our society.

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  3. Hahaha! Yes, I remember filling out all sorts of forms to register and thinking ‘Father’s/Husband’s Name’ – don’t you want to know my Mum’s name??? And then I thought hang on, I’m a grown woman in my own right I don’t want to labelled as daughther/wife of X! What’s wrong with ‘Next of Kin?’ or ‘Emergency Contact’?

  4. They came last year to my house, and my landlady act as a translator because Sidd was not there, they were actually quite puzzled by the fact I was a foreigner, I have no idea how they “boxed” me though LOL They kept asking questions about my husband and daughter, I was inexistant it seems, yup Sidd is the head of the family, he is Indian and Hindu, me? After asking my full name, my father’s name, and wondering how to write it all in Kannada he left me alone probably because the form didn’t have any categories to fit me in.
    I still wonder if as a foreigner I’m actually counted here, I live here, all my residential papers are here, so I should but then again maybe not…who knows. The guy even asked me “Why aren’t you Indian if you are married to one?”, leaving me a bit lost for word and explaining that I have a PIO card, him to say “Ma’am you HAVE TO get Indian citizenship”. Uh??? Why is that I HAVE TO last time I checked one of the basic human right is having the right to a nationality and the choice to change it IF you WANT it, not because someone says you have to.

    1. In fact I was thinking about your case while writing this. It’s amazing that in a country where there’s such a diverse population the government wants neat boxes of castes and religion. I mean there’s not even an agnostic choice! So if you don’t believe in God and don’t have a caste, you cannot be part of this country’s census!

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