Tuesday, March 08, 2011

No atheists in our census

Inspired by the recent ad-campaign by the British Humanist Association calling upon people without religion to say so in their census data, I had a look at the Indian census form. While question 3 on the form demonstrates progressive politics in that it seeks to enumerate transgenders alongside men and women, Question 7 on religion is quite regressive. This is what it says:
Q 7. Religion:
(Write the name of religion in full)
Also give code in box if found in the list below
For other religions, write name of the religion in full but do not give any code number.

The list contains the following religions: Hindu, Muslim, Christian, Sikh, Buddhist, Jain

Thus, the only option atheists and agnostics appear to have is to leave the option blank. as But that can look like an omission and does not necessarily indicate the non-religious nature of the individual's belief system. In the 2001 Census, 727,588 people left the column blank. They are reported not as atheists or agnostics, but as 'Religion not Stated'.

Indeed, the parallels with transgenders are obvious. Presumably, before the introduction of 'other' in the sex question, trans-people had to leave it blank or choose between male or female. And like trans-people, the state and the society may not approve of atheists, but surely they must be counted.

Another noteworthy entry: under Q 9 on 'Disability', 'mental retardation' is listed as one of the disabilities. Who uses language like that any more?

Update: This post by Nivedita Menon on experiences that some women have had with census enumerators is fantastic - Arun, thanks for pointing it out.
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