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Culture and systems of knowledge, cultivation and food, population and consumption

Quiet numbers tell district tales – rural and urban India, part 3

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A roadside stall on the outskirts of Kanpur, Uttar Pradesh, selling chewing tobacco

Having dealt with one basis for comparison, the 1911 report then provided a sociological overview of the transformation of the time: “It is true that a new type of town is springing up in the neighbourhood of important railway stations with stores and provision shops and a considerable coolie population, and that these in many cases have not yet reached the prescribed standard of population. But the total number of such places is still small, and their exclusion has had no material effect on the statistics.”

Then too, the 1911 Census thought fit to remind the administration of the variety of administrative divisions in what was British India, which included Baluchistan, Burma and the subcontinent that spanned these two provinces. “There are great local variations in density. In nearly two-thirds of the districts and states the number of persons to the square mile is less than 200, and in about a quarter it ranges from 200 to 500. The units with less than 100 persons to the square mile cover two-fifths of the total area but contain only one-eleventh of the population, while those with more than 500, though their area is only one-eleventh of the whole, contain one-third of the population.”

Skyscrapers under construction in central Mumbai (Bombay). These will contain luxury apartments, in contrast to the old humble labour accommodation provided for mill workers. These enormous towers have been erected on lands once occupied by the textile mills.

One hundred years ago, an aspect of the changing demographies of British India which exercised the census officials of the time was the ratio between females and males in cities and towns. It remains a concern, a century later, although more widespread now and not confined to urban settlements, as is explained briefly anon. “As usual in Indian towns females are in marked defect,” the 1911 report remarked on Bengal. “Their proportion is highest in the minor towns which are often merely overgrown villages; it is much smaller in the main centres of trade and industry, and smallest of all in Calcutta, where only one person in three is a female.”

Nor did Bombay prove different, for the 1911 report observed: “As in the other large cities of India females are in a great minority, there being only 530 to every thousand males. This proportion is the smallest yet recorded. In 1881 it was 661; it fell to 586 at the next census owing to the immigration of males to meet the rapidly growing demand for labour, and again rose to 617 in 1901, when plague had driven out more of the temporary settlers than of the permanent residents.”

While not as severe as the ratios of that era, the gender ratios for the rural populations of districts in 2011 will, as more data is released by the Census authorities and as the verification cycles for the smaller administration units are completed, help explain the movement of labour, the patterns of migration (with which they will be read) and no doubt support the studies on the feminisation of agriculture we are witness to in India. The 2011 data show that in 122 districts, the female to male ratio of the rural population is 1 or more (the range is 1.00 to 1.18).

Children line up in an 'anganwadi', a child care centre, in a slum in northern Mumbai. Their parents scour the nearby city refuse dumps for recyclable material, and make their living selling their finds to scrap merchants.

Of the 30 districts which have the highest female to male ratios of the rural population, there are 11 in Kerala, 7 in Uttarakhand, 4 in Orissa, 2 in Maharashtra and one each in Tamil Nadu, Puducherry, Karnataka, Himachal Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Andhra Pradesh. Thereafter, in 112 districts the female to male ratios of the rural population are less than 0.90 (the range is 0.90 to 0.67). The district with the lowest ratio is Tawang (Arunachal Pradesh), followed by Chandigarh, South Delhi, North District (Sikkim), Dibang Valley and West Kameng (both Arunachal Pradesh RP), Kargil (Jammu and Kashmir), Daman, Nicobars and Anjaw (Arunachal Pradesh).

A crowded main lane in Dharavi, the slum in central Mumbai renowned for years as being Asia's largest. A hive of small business and scrap recycling, Dharavi is a magnet for migrants to the giant city.

Carrying with it the potential to cause a demographic imbalance whose full import, a generation from today, we can only surmise is the gender ratio of the population between 0-6 years, that is, the children of these districts. There are 34 districts in which, amongst the rural population, the numbers of children between 0 and 6 years are 500,000 and above. That all these districts are in either Bihar (15) or in Uttar Pradesh (14) or West Bengal (5) is another outcome, over the decades since the early-20th century, of the population patterns observed in the final 50 years of colonial India. The 2011 data has shown that whether in the 34 districts with 0-6 year populations of 0.5 million, or in the top 10% of all districts (640), the rural population that is between 0-6 years old is about 90% of the district’s total child population in that category.

[This is the third of a small series of postings on rural and urban India, which reproduces material from my analysis of Census 2011 data on India’s rural and urban populations, published by Infochange India. See the first in the series here, and see the second in the series here.]


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