Keeping count of J&K''s demography
21 October 2000
M L Kotru
New Delhi: It is unfortunate that in Jammu and Kashmir even a normal, routine activity is given political overtones by disgruntled politicians, and of course militant groups. The latest is the unnecessary controversy over the census operations in the State, which is part of the same process being scheduled in the rest of the country. The modalities are the same; the procedures, unchanged One can understand an outfit like the Hizbul Mujahideen objecting to it for no rhyme or reason. But it is surprising that a former union minister Mr Saifuddin Soz, now a political featherweight in the State, has come out to cast aspersions on the ''modalities'' and ''procedures'' of enumeration in the State. Facts speak a different story than what Mr Soz would have us believe. Allegations of conspiracy to change the demographic composition of the State have been loosely made. Prof Soz wants non-subjects of the State, whether belonging to the Army or para military forces, to be left out but the migrants from Jammu and Kashmir now outside the State to be included in the population of the State. This proposition would result in several millions of people not being counted in the census at all, which goes against the principles of census. If his suggestion is followed, will there not be a demand to put people back to the provinces of Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh separately? And why not back to the districts within the State or even putting the city population back to their respective villages? Nothing can be more absurd. Specific questions to record the migration characteristics of all persons enumerated will be required, which will ensure not listing non-State subjects as State subjects. These precautions in any case are nothing new; they have been part of the earlier census operations. The other charge of ''a fall in the number of the majority community in the State'' is also misplaced. The districts quoted for the charge are Kathua and Jammu. There had been a slight decline in the Muslim population in the two districts between 1971 and 1981, but one need not run to any hasty conclusions about this phenomenon. The 1971 census here was conducted from March 12 to 31. The Muslim nomadic tribes of Gujjars and Bakarwals who have their base camps in Kathua and Jammu might have moved to higher reaches at the time the 1981 census was taken, between April 20 and May 5, resulting in recording a decline in the Muslim population in the two areas. This is a normal movement and has no link with the demographic profile of the region. In fact, the Muslim growth rate between 1971 and 1981 in Kashmir province was 30.02 per cent while in the case of Hindus it was only 7.83 per cent. Also to be borne in mind is that the fertility rate among Hindus in J&K is higher than the Muslims and the ''crude death rate'' in J&K for Muslims was 9.7 against 9.2 for the Hindus. Similarly, the infant mortality rate for Muslims was 86.2 against 64.3 for Hindus. The fear that since the census in the State is being conducted after a gap of 20 years, there is a greater chance of compound effect of a manoeuvred count of heads out of the all India frame without taking any notice of difficulties faced by the people due to militancy is ill founded. The procedure being followed at the Census of India 2001 continues to be the same as has been adopted for population enumeration at the earlier censuses. The population will be enumerated at the place of normal residence. The staff being deployed for conducting the population enumeration by door-to-door visit are the local government officials of the State government, who are also familiar to the respondents. There is absolutely no question of any type of manoeuvring in collection of data. The aspersions cast on the integrity of the census officials and the State government employees, who worked so diligently during the earlier census by Soz, are unbecoming of a man who has held a ministerial position at the Centre. In addition, at the Census of India 2001 for the first time a provision has been made in the Census Schedule which allows every respondent to affix her-his signature after verifying the responses recorded by the enumerator. The people of the State can therefore utilise this provision to ensure that the data being collected in the field by the enumerators are correct. Further, the Census Schedules were processed and tabulation completed locally by the Directorate of Census Operations, J&K. The relation between the enumerator and the respondent and the census methodology is very transparent. Census is the only organisation, which provides data on population and its characteristics at the village level in case of rural area and at town-ward level in urban areas. The fact that the census reflects the true and transparent picture of the size and distribution of the population at the lowest administrative levels in acknowledged all over the country. The procedure and methodology of census taking leave no room for any doubt whatsoever.