1902 Encyclopedia > India > The People of India

(Part 7)


The People of India

The population of India, with British Burmah, amounts to 240 millions, or as already mentioned, exactly double the number which Gibbon estimated for the Roman empire in the height of its power. But the English Government, like the Roman, has respected the rights of native chiefs who are willing to govern peaceably and well, and one-third of the country still remains in the hands of hereditary rulers. Their subjects (including Mysore) make up 54 millions, or over one-fifth of the whole Indian people. The British territories (including Mysore, temporarily under British adminstration), therefore comprise only two-thirds of the area of India, and less than four-fifths, or 191 millions, of its inhabitants.

For the first time the history of India an attempt was made in the years 1871-72 to ascertain the population of the country by actual counting. The results obtained on that occasion, though in certain points they leave much to be desired, may be accepted generally as a tolerable approximation to the truth. Prior to this census, occasional enumerations had been made, with varying degrees of accuracy, in some of the provinces ; while in others mere conjectural estimates had been allowed to pass uncriticized. In Bengal, for example, where statistical inquiry was in a backward state, the Government had year by year accepted a loose estimate of 42 millions for the population under its control, and based upon this all its calculations for legislation finance. The census fo 1872 disclosed a total of nearly 67 millions for Bengal an Assam, being an increase upon the estimate of more than one-half. In Berar, or the Assigned Districts of Hyderabad, a census had been taken in 1867, in the Punjab in 1868, and in Oudh in 1869. In these provinces, therefore, it was considered impolitic to trouble the people by a fresh enumeration. Throughout all the rest of India under British administration, including the native state of Mysore, a general census was effected on uniform principles, which may be said to have begun in November 1871 and ended in August 1872. So far as possible, the work was done in a single night ; but in certain remote and uncivilized tracts it was of necessity prolonged over several months. Considering the absolute novelty of the undertaking, at least in some provinces, and the scanty means at the disposal of the authorities, the general accuracy of the results may be regarded with not a little satisfaction. Subsequent local investigations tend to show that the numbers were under rather than overstated. In a few cases paid enumerators were engaged ; but generally the work was left to the ordinary staff of each district, assisted by the police, the landlords, and their agents. The total expenditure throughout all British India was only £82,203, being at the rate of less than half a farthing per head. The suspicions of the ignorant villagers were natually aroused by the counting, which they imagined to be preliminary to some fresh exaction by the Sarkár or Government. Only in two or three cases was any real opposition offered ; and there is little reason to believe that any material evasion was accomplished.

The total population of British India was ascertained to amount to 191,096,603 persons, on an area of 898,381 square miles, being an average of 212 persons per square mile. Deducting the frontier province of Assam and British Burmah the sea, the average is 243 persons per square mile. The population of the several native states is returned, partly from actual enumeration and partly from mere guessing, at 49,155,746 persons, on an area of 575,265 square miles, being an average of 85 persons to the square mile. The French possessions have an area of 178 square miles and a population of 271, 460 persons ; the Portuguese possessions, have an area of 178 square miles and a population of 271,460 persons ; the Portuguese possessions, 1086 square miles and 407,712 persons. The aggregate figures for all India, therefore, are 1,474,910 square miles and 240,931,521 persons, or an average of 163 persons per square mile.

The following tables exhibit the results of the census of 1872 in a tabular form, arranged according the provinces and aggregates of native, statesm as presented to Parliament in 1879 in the Statistical Abstract for British India, No. XIII. for 1877-78. For certain details the Memorandum on the Census of 1872 presented to Parliament in 1875 has been used. No really important changes in the returns will be made till the next census, but slight alternations or adjustments are from time to time effected.

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According to the report of the registrar-general upon the English census of 1871, "any density of a large country approaching 200 to a square mile implies mines, manufactures, or the industry of cities." But in India a density of thrice this limit, or 600 to the square mile, implies mines, manufactures, or the industry of cities." But in India a density of thrice this limit, or 600 to the square mile, is often attained throughout large districts which are entirely dependent upon agriculture. Sáran, for example, in North Behar, with an area of 2654 square mile and no town exceeding 50,000 inhabitants, has an avarage density of 778 to the square mile, with an maximun of 984 in the purely agricultural tháná or police circle of Mashrak. Taking the valley of the Ganges as a whole, from Saháranpur down to Calcutta, the average density is about 500 to the square mile, or nearly double that of the United Kingdom.

This high density is obtained without the presence of many large towns or contres of manufacturing life. Of the totak number of 493,444 towns and villages in British India, only 44 are returned as having more than 50,000 inhabitants, 374 as having from valley from 10,000 to 50,000, and 1070 as having from 5000 to 10,000. The 44 towns with more than 50,000 inhabitants have an aggregate urban population of a little more than 5 _ millions, or less than 3 per cent. of the total population of British India ; whereas the 34 towns in England and Wales exceeding the same limit have an aggregate urban population of nearly 7 _ millions, or 32 per cent. of the total. Taking a lower limit, there are 139 towns in British India with more than 20,000 inhabitants, having an aggregate of 8,484,006, or less than 4 _ per cent. of the total.

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The total number of inhabited houses enumerated in British India is 37,041,259. The average number of houses per square mile is 41, ranging from 102 in Oudh to 6 in British Burmah. The average number of persons per house is 5·15, being pretty uniform throughout. Contrary to the experience of the United Kingdom it is found that the number of inmates to each house is lower in the towns than in the country, the reason assigned being that the shopkeepers do not bring their families into the towns with them. The houses are grouped into a total of 493,444 villages or townships, giving an average of 75 houses and 386 persons to each. The average area of each village or township is ·55 of a square mile. The villages seem to be largest in Bombay, with 614 inhabitants each, and smallest in British Burmah, with 195 inhabitants.

Out of the total of 191,096,603 persons in British India, 98,005,381 are returned as males and 92,580,886 as females, leaving 460,336 of whom the sex unspecified. The proportion of males to females is thus as 100 to 94. In England the females outnumber the males in the proportion of 105 to 100, an excess attributed mainly to emigration. In India, whence there is pratically no emigration, it might be expected that this excess of females would disappear and the two sexes be found on an equality. In the two great provinces of Bengal and Madras this is practically the case, the excess of females being not, greater than 1 per cent., and the proportion being maintained uniformly throughout the districts. But in Oudh the excess of males is 7 per cent., in Bombay 8 percent., in the North-Western Provinces 12 per cent., and in the Punjab as high as 16 per cent. We have no reason to suppose that the approximate equality of boys and girls does not hold good in the births throughout India, as in other countries ; and therefore this great excess of males can only be assigned to two causes—(1) defective registration of females, especially of girls, and (2) female infanticide formerly, and carelessness of infant female life at the present day. Of the existence of these causes we possess independent testimony. In 1870 an act of the legislature was passed applying special regulations to villages or tracts suspected of infanticide, which is the besetting sin of certain high caste tribes of Rájputs. In one tribe of Meerut district only 8 girls under 12 were found to 80 boys. The act is put in force wherever there are less than 54 girls to 100 boys, but the next exact limit is at the discretion of Government. The crime is now almost stamped out.

The returns according to age throw some light upon this question. Children under 12 number altogether 66,969,764, and adults above 12 number 123,200,022, leaving 926,817 unspecified. The proportion of children to adults is, therefore, as 54 to 100, the corresponding proportion in England being 41 to 100. The highest proportion of children (62 to 100) is found in the Central Provinces, where the aboriginal tribes are strongest ; and the lowest proportion (50 to 100) in the North-Western Provinces. An examination of the Bengal returns, district, also lead to the conclusion that the aboriginal tribes are more prolific than the Hindus proper. Subdividing these returns according to sex, we discover an extraordinary disparity. Of the adults, 62,002,461 are males and 61,197,561 are females. The proportion of male adults to females is, therefore, about 100 to 99, as compared with 100 males to 94 females in the general population. But on turning to the children under 12, we find as many as 35,787,564 boys to only 31,182,200 girls, or 100 boys to only 87 girls. This arises from the defective registration of girls, females under 12 being often returned as women.

The following table shows the population of British India as roughly subdivided according to religion. Broadly speaking, it may be said that at least nineteen out of every twenty people in India are either Hindus or Mathometans, and that there are seven of the former to two of the latter.

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The schedules of the census fail entirely to give a satisfactory classification of the races among which the vast population of India is divided. Using language as our criterion, the people might perhaps be arranged in five classes:—(The old races of the south, known as the Dravidian stock, which includes, not only the great peoples using the literary languages of Tamil, Telugu, Malayálam, and Kanarerse, but also scattered tribes speaking dialects of the same family, who are found as far north as the hills of Chutiá Nágpur ; (2) the hill tribes of Central India, from the Bhíls of Bombay to the Santás of Bengal, whose physical characteristics are negroid, and whose family of languages has received the name of Kolarian ; (3) the tribes of Indo-Chinese origin, who inhabit the southern slopes of the Hímálayas, the greater part of the Assam valley, and the whole of Burmah;—it seems probable that the semi-Hinduized low castes of Northern Bengal also belong to this stock ;(4) high-caste Hindus, or that offshoot of the august Aryan race which has imposed its langauage, its name upon the greater part of the country ; (5) successive waves of Mahometan conquerors, Arab, Afghán, and Persian, who form in the aggregate but an infinitesimal element in the general population Whether pure Aryans are not to be traced in any other class than that of the Bráhmans may perhaps be disputed. Even the so-called Rájputs have probably a considerable admixture of Scythic blood. The Vaisya or third caste of Manu’s system is admitted to be almost extinct, while his Súdras are to be found in the pre-existing non-Aryan population.

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Among Mohemetans, who number in all 40,227,552, four classes are commonly distinguished. Mughals, or the descendants of the last conquering race, number only 219,755 of whom nearly half are to be found in the Punjab. Afgháns or Patháns on the other hand, from their proximity to the frontier, are much more strongly represented , numbering 1,841,693 in all, chiefly in the Punjab and in the Rohilhand division of the North-West. Sayyids, who claim to be lineally descended from the prophet. Number 790,984 ; and Shaikhs, 4,700,320. The remainder are unspecified, but the following tribes or classes among Indian Musalmáns are worthy of notice. In Bengal the vast majority of the Mahometans manifestly belong to the same race as the lowest castes of Hindus. They are themselves subdivided into many classes, which in their devotion to hereditary occupations scarcely to be distinguished from Hindu castes. Of late years a reforming spirit has arisen, leading them to abandon the polytheistic customs and festivals which they shares with their Hindu fellow-villagers. In the Punjab, besides the Patháns immigrants from across the frontier, Islam has taken a strong hold of the native population. The census returned upwards of 1,300,000 Játs, 700,000 Rájputs, and Mahometans are not strongly distinguished from their Hindu brethen. Baluchis from beyond the frontier number 235,000 in the Punjab, and 145,000 in Sind. Bombay possesses three peculiar classes of Musalmáns, each of which is specially devoted to maritime trade,—the Memons, numbering 49,000, chiefly in Sind ; the Borah, 86,000, mainly in Guzerat ; the Khojahs, nearly 18,000, of whom half life in the island of Bombay, In southern India the majority are known as Dakhani Musalmáns, being descendants of the armies led by the kings and nawábs of the Deccan. But the two peculiar races of the south are the Moplas (613,000) and the Labbays (312,000), both of which are seated along the coast and follow a seafaring life. They are descended from the Arab traders who settled there in very early times, and have been recruited partly by voluntary adhesions and partly by forcible conversions during the persecution of Hyder Alí and Tipú Sultán. The Moplas of Malabar are notorious far repeated outbreaks of bloody fanaticism.

The Mahometans are most numerous, as might be expected, along the valley of the Indus, from Karáchi (Kurrachee) to Pesháwar. In the Bombay province of Sind they number 78 per cent. of the total population. In the Punjab generally the proportion is 53 per cent., rising to 93 per cent. in the frontier districts of Pesháwar. In the North-Western Provinces and also in Oudh the proportion of Mahometans nowhere exceeds 23 per cent., though that part of the country was the seat of successive Musalmán empires for many centuries. In Lower Bengal, on the other, the faith of Islam has exercised a more permanent effect upon the population, especially in the valley of the Brahmaputra. The average of Mahometans in the whole province is 33 per cent., rising to 80 per cent. in the deltaic districts of Borgá and Rájshábí. Here, again, it is found that the Mahometans are not most numerous in the neighbourhood of the great Musalmán capitals, Gaur, Rájmahál, Dacca, and Murshidábád, but in the densely populated agricultural tracts, where the semi-aboriginal tribes appear to have willingly embraced Islam in preference to remaining outcasts beyond the exclusive pale of Hinduism.

The Síkhs are almost entirely confined to the Punjab, where they number only 6·50 per cent. of the population. Their stronghold is the country between the rivers Ráví and Sutlej (Satlaj), including the historical cities of Lahore, amritsar, Ambála (Umballa), and Jalandhar. In no district do they form more than 17 per cent.

Of the total number of 897,682 Christians, about 250,000 are believed to be European or to have European blood in their veins. The south of India is the only part where the exertions of the missionaries can be said to be visible in the statistics of population. In the Madras presidency generally, Christians number 533,760, or 1·71 per cent. of the total. Of these, about 416,000 are returned per cent. of the total. Of these, about 416,000 are returned as Roman Catholics, and about 118,000 as Protestants. Nearly one-fifth of all Christians are found in the single district of Tinnevelli, and they are numerically next strongest in Madura, Tanjore, Trichinopoli, South Kánara, and Malabar. Cristianity has been known in southern India for many centuries. A Pehlevi inscriptions in the ancient church of the St Thomas’ Mount near Madras city indicates a settlement of Manichaean or Persian Christians on the eastern coast, as well as on the west ; and tradition speaks of the preaching of the apostle St Thomas in Madras, Tinnevelli, and Malabar. The adherents of the Syrian church in Malabar, Travancore, and Cochin are the most ancient Christian community in the south. After these come the Roman Catholics, who trace their origin to the teaching of St Xavier and the Madura Jesuits. The Protestant churches date only from about the beginning of the present century, but their progress since that time has been considerable. In Bombay there are 126,063 Christians, of whom nearly 83,000, chiefly Indo-Portuguese, are returned as Roman Catholics. In Bengal the Christians number only 90,763, but since the date of the census missionary effort has been very successful among the bill tribes of Chutiá Nágpur. In the North-Western Provinces there are 22,196 Christians, in the Punjab 22,154, in the Central Provinces 10,477 in Mysore 25,676, in Coorg 2410, and the remainder are scattered over Assam, Berar and Ajmír. In British Burmah the Christians are proportionately more numerous than in any other province, amounting to 52,299, or 1·90 per cent., chiefly converts from the hill tribe of Karens. It should be remembered that the above figures are exclusive of the native states, in which the Christians amount to about 700,000 making a total in round numbers of 1 1/2 millions for all Indian.

An attempt was made at the time of the census to ascertain the professions and occupations of the male adults, but the results cannot be accepted as even approximately accurate. The totals, however, are here given for what they may be worth. Out of a classified total of about 62,000,000 adult males, 2,232,000, or 3·6 per cent., were returned as professional or in Government service ; 3,844,000, or 6·2 per cent., as in domestic service ; 34,844,000 or 56·2 per cent., as agricultural ; 3,224,000 or 5·2 per cent., as commercial ; 8,122,000, or 13·1 per cent., as industrial ; 7,626,000, or 12·3 per cent., as labourers ; and2,108,000,or 3·4 per cent., as independent and non-productive.

An attempt was also made to collect statistics of persons afflicted with certain specific infirmities, but here again the results possess little value. The number of insane persons and idiots was returned at 67,000, or 1 in 2700 of the population, being less than 1/8th of the rate prevailing in England. The deaf and dumb numbered 134,000, or in 1340, a proportion about half as great given again as in England; the blind numbered 354,000, or rather less than 1 in 500, which is double the English rate ; the lepers numbered 96,000, or 1 in 1875.

Returns of both births and deaths are now regularly collected over almost the entire area under British administration. In towns the returns are furnished through the municipalities, while in the rural tracts the agency employed is the police. The figures thus obtained are for the most part so evidently inadequate that it would only be misleading to reproduce them in this place. Suffice it to say that the sanitary commissioner accepts as approximately correct a calculation which estimates the average duration of life in India at thirty years and eight months, which is equivalent to an annual death-rate of 32·57 per thousand. During 1877, the year of famine, the ascertained death-rate in Madras rose to 53·2, while the ascertained birth-rate fell to 16·3 per thousand. Both these rates are, of course, mere approximations to the truth, but they serve to indicate how famine attacks a people from two sides. In 1877 the death-rate among European troops in India was 12·71 per thousand, being the lowest ever recorded ; among native troops, 13·38 per thousand ; and in the public jails, 61·95 per thousand, rising to 176·01 per thousand in the jails of Madras.


1 Mysore will be handed bank in 1881 to the administration of its native rájá.

744-2 Oudh is incorporated for must purposes with the N.W. Provinces.

744-3 The area of the wild country in which the population is not reckoned has been excluded in calculating these averages

745-1 With suburbs, but excluding Howrah.

745-2 With suburbs.

745-3 Professing for the most part various forms of aboriginal belief.

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