By Maxwell Pereira
People generally are aware why
census operations are conducted and enumerations are done. We
are familiar with enumerators normally engaged to prepare polling
lists constiruency-wise so that those in the eligible criteria
can exercise their voting rights. A Census is bigger and more
vast an exercise, meant to compile social statistics in respect
of the entire population numbers-wise and its various aspects
and attributes and categorisations for an administrative purpose
of more efficiently matching state resources to social needs.
In India though, not every one
is comfortable with the idea of parting information for the purpose,
always suspecting the motives of the establishment or agency that
undertakes such an exercise. Like for instance, motives were read
into even the Delhi Police exercise conducted purely from the
crime control and law and order point of view to do house surveys
– for purposes of tenant or servant verifications, or to
ferret out possible hideouts of anti-socials in a given area.
Such surveys conducted after the godhra riots in Gujarat attracted
tremendous flak with the general beilef that the information was
being gathered only to identify and target members of the minority
communities like Christians and Muslims.
This tendency to suspect motives
of the government’s ‘information collectors’
in India, is nothing new – going by the anecdotal accounts
recorded by the British of their experiences from such an exercise
held during the first ever census of India between 1865-75. Here
are some extracts from this first census report of over a century
plus three decades ago:
“The idea that the Government
would incur the labour and expense of such an undertaking (census)
without having in view some direct pecuniary profit was foreign
to the native mind. A poll-tax was the form in which the imposition
was in general anticipated, and the census paper went by the name
of the "tax-ticket".
“In Orissa, where it was
rumoured that the Government intended to reimburse to itself the
cost of the famine, it was variously supposed that the tax would
fall on those who trod on the village-path, who swung an arm,
who carried an umbrella, or who fed Brahmins. One man objected
to enter his brothers' names, saying that "it will be very
hard to make four brothers pay when the tax comes;" and another
withheld the entry of a baby on the ground that it was too young
to be taxed”.
“The prevalent feeling that
the population would be found excessive led in many instances
to a belief that recourse would be had to compulsory emigration,
either to Mauritius or Assam, in order to reduce the numbers;
in Moorshedabad it was stated that the surplus population was
to be blown away from guns; in Chittagong it was thought that
a certain number of heads were required to pacify the Looshai
(Mizo) Chiefs, or that coolies were needed for the Looshai campaign,
or soldiers to fight the Russians”.
“In other instances it was
the women who were wanted, to supply wives for the troops; and
at Noakhally the report ran that all the females of a certain
age were to be sent to Calcutta for "the General Sahib"
“The idea of compulsory
vaccination seized some minds; in one village forcible conversion
to Christianity was feared; and many were kept at home on the
night of the census by the belief that an ill wind would cripple
all who stirred abroad. In the census of Berar taken in 1867,
the motive of the ‘Sircar’ in counting the people
at night had been found to be altogether beyond their comprehension”.
“In the North-West Provinces,
where people had to some extent been familiarized with the idea
of a census with two previous exercises, the names of all males
were entered, not merely that of the head of the household; and,
where it could be done without offence, the names of the females
also were recorded”.
“In British Burma there
was a general absence of bribery or extortion on the part of the
agency employed, and the people were too well accustomed to the
annual capitation returns to be alarmed at the more detailed census”.
“In the district of Benares,
where some travellers, returning from a pilgrimage, declared that
they did not belong to those parts, and objected to have their
names and ages recorded. There was, however, a general opinion
among the lower orders that the measure was a preliminary to some
new mode of taxation; and in Mynpoory the rumour ran that there
was to be a forced conscription to assist in fighting the Afghans
and Russians if they should invade the Punjab”.
“Similar fears prevailed
in Oude in 1869, when it was rumoured that one male from each
family, or every fourth man, was to be taken as a recruit, an
emigrant, or a labourer on the roads or to build an enormous fort,
or that women were wanted for the European soldiers; while one
report was that England had suddenly become so hot that the Queen
had desired that two virgins might be sent from each village to
fan her night and day, and that the census was merely a subterfuge
for the purpose of carrying'out Her Majesty's orders. In particular
districts there is little doubt that concealment of girls took
place to some extent, through dread of the result of the census”.
“In Mysore, rumours of a
similar character were afloat only in one or two of the remoter
villages. In a few instances the enumerators were found, in their
zeal to give complete returns, to have entered the idols as well,
with all particulars of sex, age, etc”.
words: 07.02.2005: Copy Right © Maxwell Pereira: 3725 Sec-23,
Gurgaon-122002. You can interact with the author at http://
www.maxwellperira.com and firstname.lastname@example.org
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