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Loopholes in census exercise infuriate minorities

The mammoth work of counting more than one billion people started in the country on 8 February. It is slated to be completed by the end of the month. The chore repeated every ten years is not easy. This is the the 6th census after independence and fourteenth so far. It was in 1872 when the first census was carried out.

The census work involves a very large number of people to be pressed in the services to carry out the job and a large amount is spent for each exercise. The census is important because it not only helps in counting the people but also provides other relevant information. The Census 2001 is expected to provide comprehensive data on demography, economic activity, literacy and education, housing and household amenities, urbanization, fertility and morality, scheduled casts and scheduled tribes, language and religion. Every religious and ethnic group will be counted separately.

In the capital, Delhi alone there will be 25000 enumerators counting the heads. The enumerators who will be performing the head count are given intensive training by the government and the Directorate of Census Operations. The enumerators have been given a series of lectures on the nitty-gritty of the census form that asks 23 questions.

The census not only helps in knowing the numbers of people in various age groups in the country and their economic condition, it also helps in devising a strategy for the coming years. It helps in preparing a developmental plan for all the people of the country and also helps us know where the country stands in various fields. Unfortunately, at times people with vested interests use this vital exercise for twisting facts. Wittingly or unwittingly some data are not collected regarding a certain ethnic or religious group. At times it is simply overseen. Language is sometimes not specified about a certain group. This is not a new problem. Whenever census has been held in the past this issue comes to the fore.

This time round a number of people have complained against the enumerators’ behaviour, especially in recording one's language and religion. The most emphatic objection has come from an absolutely unexpected quarter. The first citizen who was first to be counted has complained that the census form did not include his caste separately. A number of people have also made complaints against the enumerators and census officials. Some Christian organizations have lodged several complaints against the census. They say that there are a number of discrepancies in the census format against the Christians. They have also said that the enumerators are bent upon reducing the number of Christians in the country.

A number of people have also complained that there is no room for separate identity of Muslims and Christian Dalits in the census format. The question on Dalits take into accounts only Hindu, Buddhist, and Sikh Dalits and there is no room left for the Muslim and Christian Dalits. The All-India Christian Council has served a legal notice to the Registrar General of India, who heads the census exercise.

It is not the only issue that is worrying people. A number of people in South Delhi complained to this correspondent that enumerators are not writing information furnished by them on the form instead they write it on blank paper. A south Delhi resident told MG that the enumerator told him that he is not writing on the form because it is compulsory to write on the form in black ink only. At times enumerators are found filling the forms by using pencils. These complaints are not confined to south Delhi. Rather such complaints are being heard in various parts of the country. It is feared that enumerators may later alter the information furnished by the people.

A significant lapse is that in the place of religion there is no room for Islam. In the place of religion the word 'Muslim' is written. People on being asked reply that Islam is their religion. But when there is no mention of 'Islam' on the form and they say so, it may easily be moved to the category of some other religion or not registered at all.

People have also complained that the enumerators sometimes write what they are not told. A number of people have said that on being asked about their mother tongue they said Urdu, but when they checked the form filled by the enumerators they found that some other language was written in its place.

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