As well as classifying the population by gender, religion, occupation and education, the purpose of this latest census was also to photograph and fingerprint all adults over the age of 15 years to create a biometric database of the population. This database will be used to issue new national identity cards and is welcomed by many poor families, who believe these documents will improve the ease and reliability of receiving state benefits.
Final results from the 2011 census are not expected until the middle of the year, but early findings have just been published. These reveal that India now has an extra 181 million people from a decade ago, with the total number of Indians at 1.21 billion. This means India has a population only around 1 million below that of China’s and larger than the populations of the next five most populous countries combined.
However, it isn’t the size of India’s population which worries experts, but its make-up. Provisional results for 2011 show the female to male ratio in India has improved since the last survey; there are now 940 women for every 1,000 men, compared to 933 in 2001. But this overall improvement, which may well stem from the longer life-span of women (average life expectancy for females in India is 66 years, compared to 63 for men) belies an ongoing problem with a gap between the genders.
In India, many parents still prefer to have male children, since men are traditionally the breadwinners in society. Men also perpetuate the family name and having boys relieves families of the expense of providing dowries for girls and protecting their virtue. Therefore despite laws against pre-natal tests for determining the sex of a child, the practice of aborting female foetuses is still widespread in India, with many parents prepared to pay for illegal abortions carried out by private doctors.
The fact that female foetuses continue to be aborted in significant numbers can clearly be seen in the findings of the latest census. 2011 data shows the number of girls under the age of six has declined for the fifth consecutive decade. In 2011, there are 914 young girls to every 1,000 boys, compared to 927 a decade ago. AlertNet reported the reaction of Ranjana Kumari, the director of the Centre for Social Research. Mr Kumari said the lower numbers of young girls across towns and villages in India “is very worrying” and was indicative of the continuing social problem. The director added that the census facts spoke for themselves and provided ample evidence that “nothing has been done of any real substance to save our unborn daughters.”