Categories to Count On religion and caste in the census

Peter Gottschalk

in Religion, Science, and Empire

Published in print December 2012 | ISBN: 9780195393019
Published online January 2013 | e-ISBN: 9780199979264 | DOI:
Categories to Count On religion and caste in the census

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Over the course of their empire, Britons helped engender the rise of statistics and demography as disciplines defined by another key element of scientism: systematic quantification. District administrators had long been directed to provide numerical information on some of the population and products of Chainpur, but with the 1872 census the British administration for the first time attempted to count all the village residents as part of an endeavor to totalistically account for the entire population of British India. The perceived success of this form of census is evidenced by its repetition every decade through independence, and to this day. Although nearly every successive census contributed new categories by which to better know the population–and despite the prominence of caste in many British representations–from the very start religion remained central. The problems that census takers encountered demonstrate the differences between British efforts and those made by pre-modern South Asians, and the significance in the types of categorization deployed. Difficulties in classification also show the peculiarities of scientistic taxonomy and the complications that arise when applied to more complex, self-constructed, and malleable human identities. While some South Asians resisted these categorical impositions, others appropriated them to their benefit.

Keywords: categorization; quantification; statistics; demographics; caste; religion; census; totalism; Mughal; Maratha

Chapter.  20640 words. 

Subjects: Religious Studies

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