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The Big Picture – Importance of Census Data on Religion

 Importance of Census Data on Religion


India has seen census being undertaken every 10 years without fail for several decades. The figure and data emerging out of this are very helpful. However, one data which almost always results in a controversy is religious census. Though the data regarding 2011 religious census was available 2 years back the government has not yet released. However, the figures have leaked out and already created a controversy.

According to the leaked figures, the Hindu population percentage has gone down and the Muslim population percentage has gone up. It has come up in an atmosphere where religious conversions have created a major controversy and these figures act as fuel to the fire in the hands of western interests.

Certain questions are also being raised as to why the government is hesitant to release these figures officially.

Some of the sensitive data collected during the Census survey are referred to the government in power at the time so that it doesn’t catch the government and others by surprise. It is also true that no government has powers to withhold the data forever nor they have got powers to tamper the data because census data are sacrosanct figures and its credibility is totally dependent upon honesty and integrity of the figures. Sometimes the government in power holds or delays the release of these data for its own political considerations.

It is the right of citizens of India to know the census figures and is also a duty of census commission to release these figures on time. Since population has not been segmented on the basis of religion, some say that there is no need for such kind of survey.  Some also say that India being a land of multi religions and developmental policies being undertaken based on the religious backwardness, it is necessary to have such survey. This data has social, economic and political significance. This is also being termed as a kind of social examination.

It is also unfortunate that we are still collecting the data around categories which were invented by the colonial rulers. We do not have the kind religious classification on ground which is given by the data. We have diversities of faith system. Each religion has multiple faith systems and hence we have to find new ways to comprehensively collect the data which would enhance the effectiveness of the data. There is also a growing voice to transfer this subject from the central list to the state list. It is necessary to classify the population based on the social backwardness and not based on religion.

The constitution of India recognises minorities and it requires state to adopt policies to help them come up with the majority. And for such activities, some experts opine that religious census is necessary. It is also true that census, being the most dependable source of data collection, cannot be left to the states. Previously the responsibility of caste data collection was given to some states on experimental basis which have failed miserably. And hence only national census can collect reliable data based on socio economic considerations. This provides the data for religion and community specific developmental programmes. Religious identity sometimes correspond the developmental activities.

Caste is a regional formation. It should be reinvented and be included under the census data as an important part.