Census India 1931: Distribution And Movement of Population

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This article is an extract from


Report by

J. H. HUTTON, C.I.E., D.Sc., F.A.S.B.,

Corresponding Member of the Anthropologische Gesselschaft of Vienna.

Delhi: Manager of Publications


(Hutton was the Census Commissioner for India)

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Distribution And Movement of Population

Section i.—Scope of the Report

The area covered by the sixth general census of India is approximatel identical with that covered by the census of 1921 and differs little from the area ofprevious occasions from 1881 onwards ;2,308sq.miles containing some 34,000 inhabitants have been added in Burma and in the north-east of Assam, while on the other hand, six sq. miles have been lost to Nepal. The statistics therefore cover the whole empire of India with Burma and the adjacent islands and islet: : (exclusive of Ceylon and the Maldives) as well as Aden and Perim Island, but not the Kuria Muria Islands* and Sokotra, which is part of the Aden Protectorate, administered from Aden on behalf of the Colonial Office, and not part of British India. The statistics and the tables do not of course cover those parts of the peninsula wine( .are not parts of the British Empire, that' is, to say, Afghanistan, Nepal, Bhutan and the French and Portuguese possessions, the . area and, population of which, together with the rate of increase since 1921 where available, are shown in the marginal ta, For.i the rest the scope of this Census extencTed to the whole of the peninsula bf India., forming what is commonly described as a sub-continent between long. 01° and 101° E. and lat. 6° to 37°N. Sole information has also been included with -, ,gard to natives of India resident permanently or temporarily outside the Indian Empire or serving on the High Seas at the time the census was taken.

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Obviously within an area of such size, part of which is well within the temperate zone while part is almost equatorial, the diversity bf condition both of the population and of its environment must be very great indeed. Geologically, while the peninsula is one of the oldest of the world's formations, the Himalayas are one of the most recent. Not unnaturally therefore there is a great variety of physical feature, varying not only from the loftiest mountains of the world to flats salted by every tide, but from sandy deserts with a rainfall of five inches or less in a year in the north-west to thickly wooded evergreen hills which have never less than 100. inches and here and there get 500 inches of rain or even more in tjae eastand south. Again in northern India there are extremes of temperature-120' of heat dropping to cold below freezing point, while in the south the temperature is almost static

  • The population of these islands remains conjectural, and the only information that can be had about them was

obtained in 1920 from the Senior Naval Officer at Aden and it is printed in Part III of this Report, since, although ont of date, it appears to be the latest information available. The question of the language of Sokotra formerly perhaps written, but now a spoken language only, is of some interest, as are likewise habits and customs of the populations of these islands some of whom in Sokotra are cave dwellers ; it is therefore unfortunate from a scientific point of view that no investigation has ever apparently been made. in its heat and humidity. As might be expected the physical features of the inhabitants are no less variable than those of thrir environments. Any haphazard collection of Indians will afford types of very. different ethnic groups, though the composition would vary according to the locality. The number of languages, as classified by Sir George Grierson in his Linguistic Survey of India and exclusive of dialects, is 225 by the returns of 1931. Creeds may be less numerous, but castes, customs and sects must be no less diverse, and the same applies to social, political and economic conditions. Thus the peoples to be covered by this report present every aspect from that of the latest phase of western civilization to that of the most primitive tribes, which, like the Andamanese or like the Kadar or Uralis of southern India, still exist by hunting and collecting forest produce without ever apparently having reached the stage of agriculture at all. Naturally any report of the census of so large and diversified an area must, if it is to be contained in a volume, be of a superficial nature, leaving the closer examination of the figures and facts revealed by enumeration to the reports severally undertaken for each of the Provinces and larger States.

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2. At the same time in spite of this great variety the existence for the most part of a uniform system of administration and of a fairly general distribution of the different racial types from which the population is drawn, together with a similar, if perhaps less even distribution of religious and social systems, contribute to give a certain uniformity, if not unity, to the whole, which in spite of local differences is obviously capable of a degree of national consciousness which increases with the spread of education. For the difficulty occasioned by great diversity in treating India as a whole is experienced likewise to a more limited extent in each Province and in must States, since the political boundaries have generally little relation to any other. The difficulty of dealing with the population question by natural divisions is thus greatly enhanced. Obviously the density of the population is in immediate relationship to the conformation of the soil, to the rainfall and to the crops, all of which are inter-dependent, but since the boundaries of administrative units run counter to the divisions of nature, any treatment of the population according to natural divisions is likely to involve the dissipation of figures returned by administrative units into a set of entirely different combinations. This has been attempted for India as a whole on some previous occasions, but the information obtained by such a treatment, however interesting academically, is of little or no administrative value. Demography by natural divisions therefore has been limited to the individual reports of provinces, since in some of the provinces and states the natural divisions are less diverse from divisions political than they are when India is treated as a whole, and within the administrative unit may even be of some practical application.

3. In addition to the actual population of India some attempt has been made to give information as to Indian nationals in other countries or on the'High Seas. These figures are necessarily incomplete, but perhaps go further than they have done on previous occasions by including returns of Indian crews on ocean-going vessels shipped during the eight months or so that preceded the final enumeration. Though not in India at the time of the census, these crews form a permanent part of the population visiting their homes from time to time and in many cases returning agriculture as a subsidiary occupation. Strictly speaking therefore, although the census in intention is one of the de facto population that is of the numbers found in India on February 26th, 1931 and not as in the case of the United States, for instance, a de jure population, the terms of a census of actual population have not been observed with excessive punctuality. This indeed would have been impossible, since the remoteness of some parts of India, the difficulty of communications and limitations imposed by water, snow aid wild animals make a completely synchronous enumeration of the whole peninsula an absolute impossibility.

Section ii.—Distribution and Movement.

Area and Population

4. The total area covered by this census amounts to 18 hundred thousand sq. miles and the population inhabiting it to 353 millions giving a density for the whole area of 195 persons per sq. mile. This density however is a very variable factor appearing at the lowest as 6 . 5 persons per sq. mile in the mean density of Baluchistan, Chagai District of which has only one person to the square

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mile, and at its highest at about 2,000 persons per sq. mile in the most thickly populated parts of the south-west coast, the general density of Cochin State, including both the thickly populated coast lands and the almost uninhabited highlands, being 814 . 2 persons per sq. mile and reaching in one village the amazing maximum found in any purely rural population of over 4,000 persons to the sq. mile. There is, however, in Bengal an even higher general level of density, since the Dacca Division has a mean density of 935 persons for a population of 13,864,104, and reaches a rural density of 3,228 per sq. mile for Lohajang thana, and a mean density of 2,413 for Munshiganj sub-division which has an area of 294 sq. miles. Of the total population 256,859,787 represents the population of British India proper, the area of which is 862,679 sq. miles, and 81,310,845 that of the States with an area of 712,508 sq. miles. British India with Burma has a population of 271,526,933, and the proportion of the population of the States to British India is 23 to 77 when Burma is included. On the other hand if she be exclAed it is 24 to 76. It has been already mentioned that the density of the populati varies largely according to the rainfall and it may here be pointed out that in the densest areas—those of Cochin, of eastern Bengal, the north-east of the United Provinces and of Bihar, the rainfall is heavier than in any other part of India except Assam, where large tracts of hills and forest reduce the population in proportion to the area, and in southern Burma where there is considerable room for the increase of population and where also there are considerable areas of forest and hilts. With India's present population and area we may compare England and Wales with an area of over 58,000 sq. miles and a population of nearly 40,000,000 and a density of 685 persons per sq. mile, or Europe as a whole—area 3,750,000 sq. miles, population 475,000,000, mean density 127 persons per sq. mile, with the United States of America—area 3,027,000 sq. miles, population 123,000,000, persons per sq. mile 41, or China the area of which including Tibet, Mongolia, Chinese Turkestan and Manchuria is estimated at 4f million sq. miles and the population of which according to the latest estimate, that of Professor Willcox, is 342,000,000 giving a density of 80 . 5 persons per sq. mile, though in the fertile areas it is of course much heavier than this. Indeed a more useful comparison should be with China proper, having an area of about 112 million sq. miles and a general density of probably 200 to 220 persons per sq. mile. It may be added that the total population of the world is now estimated at about 1,850,000,000, and if this be the fact, the population of India forms almost one-fifth part of that of the whole world. It should be added, as regards area, that the Survey of India is now revising the official figures of the area of districts and provinces which will involve some modification of the figures given in the census reports. Revised figures were not ready in time to be utilised generally at this census, but the necessary changes in area and density are for the most part small and unimportant.


The actual increase since 1921 is 33,895,298, that is to say, 10 .6 per cent. on the population at the last census and 39 per cent. on the population of India fifty years ago and an increase of 12 persons per square mile in 50 years, during which time the increase in area has been principally, if not entirely, confined to comparatively thinly populated areas, and amounts to 426,055 sq. miles. These figures may be compared with an increase in England and Wales since last census of only 5 . 4 per cent., but of 53 8 per cent. in the last 50 years, with an increase in the United States of 16 per cent. since the last census, with an increase of nearly 18 per cent. in Ceylon and with an increase in Java of 20 per cent. since the last census and of as much as 26 per cent. in the outer islands of the Netherlands Indies. The population of Java is of course not comparable with that of India as a whole on account of its small size and limited area, but having (with Madura) the very high density of 817 persons per square mile it is comparable with the more densely populated parts of India already mentioned. This illustrates the fact that the density in India is So variable that it is impossible to consider the question of movement of the population without going into the question of the distribution and variation of density, for density of population in India depends not on industry, as in the United Kingdom, but on agriculture, and is greatest of course in the most fertile areas. At this census, however, the greatest increase is in the States, where generally speaking the density is lowest, and therefore the increase in the population shown by the figures of this census appears at first sight indicative of pressure upon the margin of cultivation, but while. the greatest increase has been in Bikaner (41 . 9 per cent.) this must be put down largely to the increase of irrigation and to the consequent immigration from outside, and one of next highest increases is that of Travancore in which the density was already among the highest in India. The increase in Hyderabad State again is partly to be attributed to an increase of efficiency in the taking of the census and cannot therefore be safely used as a basis of any comparison of the population as it is now and was then. Obviously the greatest increase in population is to be expected in areas such as that of Burma where the rainfall is above the mean and the density of the population below it. Where the rainfall rainfall is just adequate as in the southern Punjab, eastern Rajputana, United Provinces, Central India generally and H. E. H. the Nizam's Dominions, irrigation has abated the liability to complete loss of crop, and improved communications have made it possible to prevent heavy loss of life in times of scarcity, thus enabling the population to increase on the margin of subsistence. How high a population can be supported by agriculture when conditions are favourable, is shown by Cochin with areas here and there carrying over 2,000 and in one rural unit actually 4,090 persons to the sq. mile on land producing rice and coconuts, but principally the latter which leaves more room for the erection of buildings and brings in a higher return than rice in actual cash. In such areas, e.g. Cochin and Travancore, the increase in the population has been higher than in the sparsely populated areas like Baluchistan or Jaisalmer State where there is no general extension of irrigation, although there would appear to be more scope for an extension of cultivation. On the other hand when these thickly populated areas are examined in detail it appears that the actual rate of increase in population is greatest in the less populated, and less fertile, areas. Thus in Travancore, there are three natural divisions the lowland—very fertile, the midland—less so, and the highlands, where the staple crop is tapioca and where irrigation is not practised. Now in these three natural divisions the density in 1921 was 1,403 persons to the sq. mile, 700 persons and 53 respectively, which increased during the decade to 1,743, 892 and 82, that is by 24 . 2, 27 .4 and 54 . 7 per cent. respectively, showing a vastly higher rate of increase in the area of least density which is also the area of least fertility, though not as great a numerical increase. Similarly in b Bengal the greatest rate of increase has been in the Chittagong Hill Tracts, and in Madras in the Nilgiris. Where, therefore, there is a population already dense, there is a clearly perceptible spread towards the less profitable land. The increase of population has also been dependent in some cases on migration, while, on the other hand, the apparent increase may have depended on the failure to migrate. Thus the increase of 35 per cent. in Ahmadnagar district, a rather barren upland in the Deccan which suffers from recurring famines, is not due so much to a series of good years or to an extension of cultivation on the subsistence margin, as to trade depression, resulting in numbers of the population staying at home instead of migrating to the ports of Bombay and elsewhere where in normal years they are employed during the census months of February and March. Bombay shows a corresponding decrease, probably due, in the particular case of Bombay, largely to the same cause. Other decreases there are which are not so easy to explain.


Immigration, when India is taken as a whole, influences the population very little. Table VI shows 730,562 persons as born outside India as against 603,526 in 1921, without taking count in either case of persons born in French or Portuguese possessions. The increase is almost entirely in persons born in Asiatic countries. Against this there must be set off on account of emigration about one million persons who are estimated as having emigrated during the decade under review. Migration, however, is of more importance as affecting internal fluctuations of populations, varying in British India from 1,244,249 (net) immigrants into Assam to 15,536 (net) immigrants into the North-West Frontier Province. These figures however include all those whose birth-place was outside the province, and do not refer to the decade 1921-31 only. If we take the actual increase due to immigration during the decade in Assam it is found to be only 121,648,* consequently if a percentage be taken on the increase of population Assam owes only 10 .5 per cent. of its increase to immigration, though its immigration figure is the highest among all provinces. Conversely Bihar and Orissa with the greatest loss by emigration shows an increase of 10 . 8, a little more than that for all India, in spite of the fact that the total loss by emigration is equivalent to almost a third of the actual figure of increase. Migration as between British India and the States has tended in the past to be from the latter to the former, but during the last decade this position has been reversed and the trend of migration on the whole is from British India to the States, where the density is generally lower. Bikaner, where the immigrants total 161,303, i.e., 58 per cent. of its increase in population, is a striking instance ; the greater number of its immigrants (about 54%) come from British India, and while the natural increase of the population of Bikaner State plus the normal immigration as recorded in 1921 would have resulted in a general increase of 28 per cent. and thereby brought the population back to the 1891 level merely, the increase at this census is much in excess of that amount, and this excess may be put down entirely to the extension of irrigation.


Another factor to be considered is the relation of the birth-rate to the death rate and this factor is far from being the same in different sections of the population. How far the fecundity of different races and castes in India is the result of environment and how far it may have become an inherited racial trait fixed at some period in the past history of the people, and how far it depends on prevailing social practices, is extremely difficult to determine in the light of the existing information, but it is easy to show that there is marked variation in different parts of India and this question will be reverted to in the chapters on age and sex. Meanwhile it is enough to point out that in India the birth rate is everywhere much higher than in Europe. largely on account of the universality of marriage, the Parris being perhaps the only Indian community in which late marriage and small families are the rule instead of the exception. The birth-rate is lower among the Hindus than in most of other communities probably to some extent on account of the general disapproval of widow remarriage, resulting in larger numbers of women being unreproductive at the child-bearing age, and to some extent on that of the greater prevalence of immature maternity. On the other hand, the high birth rate of India is largely discounted by a high death rate, particularly among infants as also apparently among women at child-birth. Here again social factors have to be reckoned'Cvith, the custom of purdah perhaps exercising its worst effect among the poorer class of Muslims who appear to be more rigid in its observance than the corresponding class of Hindus. This effect is particularly noticeable in crowded urban areas, in which the space available to a woman in purdah and poor circumstances is so small as seriously to affect her health. In the matter of epidemics and of deaths from famine or want, the decade has been particularly favourable to an increase in population. It is true that the influenza epidemic at the end of the previous decade is believed to have fallen most severely on the most reproductive ages and should therefore have had a much more lasting effect than the reduction caused by famine which takes the oldest and the youngest first. There has, however, been no serious famine in the decade under review, and every year sees improved methods of fighting such epidemics as cholera, plague or kala azar. Indeed a completely effective treatment for the latter pest has been perfected since the last census, and has made it possible to stamp out the disease. The antimony treatment of kala azar was discovered as early as 1913, but the original treatment took three months to apply and therefore did little to prevent the epidemic. The treatment with organic antimony compounds, introduced about 1917, reduced the period of treatment to a month. The improved treatment introduced during the 1921-31 decade however cures the disease in ten days or even less. A brief reference to vital statistics will be found in Section 76 (Chapter IV) below. In view of the admitted inaccuracy of these statistics in many provinces, the discrepancy between the 1931 population as it should have been according to those statistics and as it was found to •be by the census is no cause for surprise. The figures are shown in the marginal table, and a calculation of the intercensal population will be found at the end of the chapter in subsidiary Table III, while subsidiary Tables VIII to XI contain additional material with reference to vital statistics.



As regards scarcity, improvements in communications, and consequently in ease of distribution, nowadays prevent anything like the famine mortality of a century ago, while taking India as a whole the decade ending in 1931 was a prosperous one in the matter of crops, the general . economic depression that has supervened having been little apparent outside one or two restricted areas until 1931 itself, so that for a population mainly agricultural the conditions have been very favourable to an increase in population. Nevertheless the decade opened, as it has since closed, in gloom. The frontier was disturbed ,; the Moplahs were in rebellion ; there was trouble in the Madras Agency tracts ; the effects of influenza and the bad monsoon of 1920 were still active ; trade was depressed ; prices were high ; finances were embarrassed, and the non-co-operation movement was rampant. From this position there vas a rapid recovery ; a series of good harvests followed almost all aver India.

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In Bengal there were floods, it is true, and floods proved to be the principal cause of local distress and scarcity during the decade in India generally, as no province o completely escaped the inundation of some portion in the ten years under review. But taking. India as a whole the first five years were generally above the average, or little below it. Famines were local and not very serious, though one unfortunate district in Madras had famine declared in it officially in three seasons. Almost to the end of the decade the prices of cotton remained consistently remunerative. The end of the decade showed the most deterioration from this average of agricultural prosperity. Scarcity in some parts, e.g., in the United Pro-,vinces, and the heavy fall in the prices of agricultural produce recreated a position not unlike that of the beginning of the decade, but with the additional embarrassment of a population greatly increased by -, the intervening prosperity. Wages how- , ever did not fall as rapidly as prices, and up to the time of the census agricultural prosperity on the whole was greater than ten years before, though the mcrease in population had diminished the size of holdings. Trade and industry followed much the same course, since the depression, though severely felt by the tea industry as early as 1928, had only just become general by the time of the census. On the other hand much permanent improvement had been carried out in communications everywhere, and a new port for ocean-going steamers had been constructed at Cochin and another begun at Vizagapatam.

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Above all a number of large schemes of irrigation and hydroelectric power development have been completed, particularly in the north-west and south of India. Public health has been exceptionally good during the decade ; cholera and plague took much less than their usual toll of life, and kalaazar was suppressed by the perfection of an easy cure. The general rise in prosperity throughout the decade is indicated by the comparative deposits in savings banks (and state of co-operative societies in 1921 and 1931, tables of which are given in the statements below :-

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The number of Co-operative Societies has more than doubled during the decade, which opened with 47,503 societies and closed with over 100,000, while the number of members of primary societies increased from 1,752,904 to 4,308,262, of whom more than two-thirds are agricultural. Five states which did not appear at all in the statements of 1920-21 have

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been added to the returns of 1930-31, viz., Cochin, Gwalior, Indore, Jammu an, Kashmir and Travancore. It will be seen therefore that inspite of the decline a the end of the decade into a condition of low prices, trade depression non-co-opera tion and rebellion, this time in Burma, similar to that with which the decad opened if not worse, there still remained at its close many of the economic benefit accumulated during the interval, though they are subject to the greatly enhance liability of the additional populatiov of approximately 34 millions to the propag tion of which the prosperous years had so greatly contributed.

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Provincial distribution and variation

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Ajmer-Merwara is a small province with an area a little less than that of Co. Cork or a little more than that of Devonshire and a population of little more than that of all Connaught or of Midlothian. It is administered by a Commissioner under the Agent to the Governor General in India for Rajputana, by the States of which it is entirely surrounded, and consists of the city and sub-division of Ajmer, the adjacent but detached sub-division of Kekri, and the tahsils of Merwara, the ancient domain of the Mers, as well as small detached areas which are included in one or other of these units. The population, though the highest yet recorded, only exceeds that of 1891 by less than 18,000 persons. The present census shows an actual increase of 13 . 1 per cent. for the decade, which probably represents a natural increase of 16-6 per cent. since the 1921 population was swollen by the Khwaja Sahib's 'Urs. The agricultural produce of Ajmer and Merwara is not enough to support its population and some 360,000 maunds of grain are imported annually. Railway workshops in Ajmer employ many hands.

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