Janaganana karaycha aahe
June 29, 2010 3:42 PM   Subscribe

How do you survey a billion people? Since April 1, India has been conducting its 15th decennial census. Unlike in some countries, in India, the data for the census is still entirely collected by enumerators—2.7 million of them—who visit every residence in the country to count the people living there.

Some interesting things about this massive undertaking:
  • The census is not done all over the country at once, but rather has a staggered schedule, with different states each beginning their 45-day survey at different times.
  • The census is actually two different surveys: the Houselisting, or Housing Census, which is concerned with type and quality of housing, and the National Population Register, which is the first step for the creation of Unique Identification Cards for every citizen.
  • As they did for the first time in the 2001 census, the 2011 census is using forms that will be read by machine, not compiled by hand. Using lessons learned from the previous census, the form (on pages 17-18 of this 2.3MB pdf) which is printed in 16 of India's 450 languages, has been redesigned to reduce human error, reduce fatigue for interviewers and make the data user-friendly with the assistance of Rupesh Vyas, a professor at India's National Institute of Design.
  • Though it has not been officially part of the census since 1931, there has been a move this year to once again ask residents about their caste. Even though the census is already underway, the "caste question" is still under review. But that hasn't stopped some enumerators from asking about it, and the suggestion caused Bollywood star Amitabh Bachchan to declare after he and his family were counted that if he had been asked his caste, his answer would have been "Indian."
  • The Instruction Manual for the Houselisting and Housing Census (a 4.5MB pdf linked in five languages from this page on the census website) is pretty fascinating. It explains to the numerators things like how to describe a servant's residence for the purpose of the census: if a servant eats from his employer's kitchen, he is considered part of the employer's household, so his house is part of his employer's residence (they are counted as one), but if he takes his meals from his own kitchen, then his residence and his employer's are counted separately. The FAQs for Enumerators are also enlightening, and give a sense of the complexity of the project. Some of the questions touch on architecture and building classification, others on human relationships:
    • In commercial areas/ public houses, we find houses where people sleep at night on payment basis. The persons may or may not cook there. Should we list the households/ persons or treat these houses as non-residential and the persons as houseless?
    • Whether live-together will be considered as married couple?
    • When a husband is having 3 wives, how to enter all the spouses?
    • In Navodaya Vidyalaya there are many hostels in the compound adjacent to each other but differently named as Krishna, Godavari etc for boys and girls separately but the mess is common for all the occupants of the Hostel.
      • Whether it will be one institutional household or separate institutional household
      • In case every hostel in the compound has its separate mess how it will be dealt with?
    • How filled-in Schedules, etc. are to be submitted for the uninhabited villages?
    • Questions about kitchens:
      1. Single person is living in a house having separate kitchen. He is preparing tea/milk and using LPG for it. But taking meal from hotel/mess etc. Whether it is to be considered as having kitchen in the house (code 1) or no cooking (code 5).
      2. Similarly a household having kitchen separately in the house but cooking outside the house (specially in rural areas), what will be the code (code 1 or code 4)
    • Now-a-days, mobile phones have FM radio. Will it be considered as radio? Likewise, advance mobile phones have facilities similar to TV, laptop, etc. Will these facilities be considered also for recording possession in questions 29 and 30?

posted by ocherdraco (19 comments total) 37 users marked this as a favorite
Whoa, this is great!
posted by turgid dahlia at 3:48 PM on June 29, 2010

Great post.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 4:15 PM on June 29, 2010

wow, what a meaty post. From the "has been redesigned" link:

"Officially known as enumerators but unofficially as census-wallas, they record all responses on forms that are later collected, scanned and read via character recognition software. But the complexity runs deeper than that: The forms must be printed in 16 different languages, and many people have hazy recollections of their birth years while others adhere to religious calendars that run on lunar cycles."

Can we just take a second to imagine what a monumental task it must've been to come up with this form? India is a nation of such cultural complexity, so many languages, so many things to take into account. Amazing.
posted by tuck_nroll at 4:20 PM on June 29, 2010

A simpler way to get the total population would be to measure the total tonnage of tea sold daily by wholesalers, convert that into how many glasses of chai it would make, and then divide by ten.
posted by UbuRoivas at 4:25 PM on June 29, 2010 [5 favorites]

Can we just take a second to imagine what a monumental task it must've been to come up with this form?

And just imagine how many manila folders & red ribbons will be required to store them all.
posted by UbuRoivas at 4:27 PM on June 29, 2010 [2 favorites]

Britain's lasting legacy - a monumental bureaucracy.
posted by wilful at 5:01 PM on June 29, 2010 [2 favorites]

Survey design is one of my favorite topics and India completely fascinates me. Thanks, ocherdraco.
posted by jocelmeow at 5:13 PM on June 29, 2010

Britain's lasting legacy - a monumental bureaucracy.

The best method of suppressing dissent ever invented.
posted by GuyZero at 5:13 PM on June 29, 2010

Oh please tell me there are at least as many census-related conspiracy theories there as in the US. What, no GPS units so the UN know where to drop their missiles? Sheesh.
posted by bloggerwench at 8:02 PM on June 29, 2010

Oh they're going to use the Census GPS coordinates? That's a relief. I was all afraid they'd use something accurate.
posted by Zalzidrax at 8:16 PM on June 29, 2010

An interesting thing about caste and the census. Enumerating the castes has always been a boondoggle; at the time of the last British census in 1931, there were 6,000 castes, and 65,000 subcastes. However, few people know that the British themselves had used the census to manipulate caste. After some abortive attempts at creating a "Vedic" hierarchy of caste, in 1891 they left the caste column blank and told the census takers to fill it in with whatever people wanted to identify with. The result was 2.3 million separate castes. After this, the British decided to "consolidate" castes and drew up some official lists.
posted by shii at 8:59 PM on June 29, 2010 [4 favorites]

Boondoggle. Wrong word I think.
posted by wilful at 9:24 PM on June 29, 2010

great post ocherdraco !

some additional links,

how are they promoting this (so that people cooperate for the UID)

the "trusted friend" (since the UID will form the basis of many services)

one more on form design
(i dropped out of the national institute of design btw in the last century ;p)
posted by infini at 12:38 AM on June 30, 2010

This is fascinating, good work ocherdraco!
posted by ellieBOA at 2:02 AM on June 30, 2010

This is incredible, and a fantastic post. From the first link is this brilliant nugget of information:

There are merely 90 'National Trainers' who train 725 'Master Trainer Facilitators' (8 each), who in turn train 54,000 Master Trainers (about 75 each) who themselves train 2.7 million enumerators (50 each).

I've worked on training rollouts for several thousand people, and this undertaking makes my eyes twitch when I read it. Truly incredible.
posted by Happy Dave at 2:40 AM on June 30, 2010

Also, can I just say, I love the idiosyncracies of the English language Indian press - the vocabulary is fantastic. Saying that the census-takers are 'ferreting out information' - awesome.
posted by Happy Dave at 2:47 AM on June 30, 2010

'ferreting out information'

Huh? That's a pretty standard English idiom.
posted by kmz at 7:46 AM on June 30, 2010

Yes, it is, but in context it reads quite unusually, compared to the relatively bland style of AP, Reuters etc:
The veteran filmstar was constrained to air his views on the raging debate on Wednesday as it was only earlier in the day that officials of the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) had come trooping into his residence, `` Prateeksha’’, to ferret out information from him and his family-members on various facets that would eventually form the basis for their Unique Identity Cards (UIDs).
This is the same press that routinely refers to armed robbers as 'rascals'. I'm not criticising at all, I think the richness of the language used in the Indian press is great.
posted by Happy Dave at 8:06 AM on June 30, 2010

Huh. I wonder if it's a more standard American English idiom. That being true, what's it doing in India?
posted by xorry at 9:14 PM on July 3, 2010

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