One of India’s biggest decennial events for the past 140-odd years has just got under way, and in less than a year, will generate an astounding mass of data about this country and its people.
Much has changed since the first national Census in 1872, and the enormity of the exercise now is compelling: 2.5 million officials will fan out across more than 7,000 towns and 600,000 villages in an effort to capture the lives of 1.2 billion people. There have been qualitative changes too, and this Census will, for the first time, take into account the penetration of the Internet, mobile telephony and banking services, providing valuable insights into the country’s socio-economic growth.
The benefits are palpable— from facilitating public policy to addressing internal security concerns to formulating corporate marketing strategies. But there is also a more abstract fallout: In the debates over regionalism, secessionism, political fractures and economic inequities, we often lose sight of basic unifying processes. The Census is a useful reminder of the idea of India.