Provisional highlights from India’s 2011 census released by the Census Authority earlier this week, on March 31, indicate declining population growth, increasing literacy rates, and a reduced sex ratio.
Although the final report is expected to be released by next year, Census 2011 can be viewed as one of the milestone achievements in India’s progress. The final report will provide the most in-depth understanding of India’s socioeconomic profile to date. Carried out at the cost of a hefty sum of Rupees 22,000 million (approximately $490 million), the census covered 7936 towns and over 641,000 villages from 35 states and union territories of India.
By the end of 2010, with a population of over 1.2 billion, India alone accounted for 17.5% of the world’s population, whereas China accounted for roughly 19.5%. The population of India is almost equal to the combined population of the United States, Indonesia, Brazil, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Japan put together (1214.3 million). Though the overall population has increased from 1.03 billion in 2001 to 1.21 billion by 2010, the population growth rate has experienced its steepest ever decline since India’s independence in 1947. While the population growth rate between 1991 – 2001 was 21.54%, during the last decade the growth has been reduced 17.64%, to an annual growth rate of 1.76%. This is indeed a positive sign. However, this decline must be sustained and even reduced, as projections estimate that, growing at the present rate, by 2030, India can surpass China as the world’s most populous country.
Apart from this, a significant positive development is that the overall literacy rate has increased from 64.83% in 2001 to 74.02% in 2011. This increase, however, is not uniform throughout India. While some districts, such as Sercchip district in Mizoram – a Northeastern state – registered the highest literacy rate of 98.76%, another district, Alirajpur, in Madhaya Pradesh – a central Indian state – remains at the bottom with only a 37.22 % literacy rate.
The male literacy rate, as usual in India, is much higher than the average. While the male literacy rate is 82.14%, female literacy is only 65.46%. Although there is a huge gap between the male and female literacy rates, the encouraging aspect is that the gap is shrinking. There was a gap of 21.59 percentage points recorded between male to female literacy rates in the 2001 census, which has now reduced to 16.68 percentage points in 2011. This improvement will boost India’s Human Development Index ranking which currently places the country at 119th in the world.
But, even though there are encouraging trends in population and literacy rates, the gender equation, as a whole, remains far from balanced. The overall gender composition has improved by 7 points. In 2011, there are 940 females for every 1000 males, whereas in 2001 the sex ratio, defined as number females per 1000 males, was only 933. The skewed sex ratio is also not homogeneous. This highest sex ratio recorded is 1176 in Mahe district, while the district Daman registers the lowest sex ratio of only 533.
Looking deeper, there was a quite alarming steep decline in child sex ratio across the country (with the exception of 7 states). In the 0-6 years age group, the population comprises of 52.24% male children as opposed to 47.76% female children. The very distressful fact is that there are only 914 girls for every 1000 boys in the age group of 0-6 years. This figure is the lowest in recent Indian history. The reasons for such a low sex ratio range from the desire and value Indian society places on having a male child, to illegal abortions of female children, to female feticide and infanticide. If this trend continues, one study predicts that by 2020, India will have 25 million more males than females.
To conclude, I must say that India has improved a little, but it needs to improve a whole lot more. Until we know more about the progress, we can’t say for sure how much has been gained and how much remains to be achieved.
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