Census sheds new light on changing nation

Though half of all Indians do not have a toilet at home, well over half own a telephone, new census data released on Tuesday show.

These and many other contrasting facts of life have come out in Census 2011. The data on housing, household amenities and assets cast new light on a country in the throes of a complex transition, where millions have access to state-of-the-art technologies and consumer goods — but a larger number lacks access to the most rudimentary facilities.

Live, connect, move — census at a glance (PDF)

It shows Indian society is overwhelmingly made up of nuclear families. They have ever more access to electricity and gather their information from television, rather than radio. At the same time, women are forced to rely on traditional smoky fuels to cook, and less than a third of the population have access to treated drinking water.

Only 46.9 per cent of the total 246.6 million households have toilet facilities. Of the rest, 3.2 per cent use public toilets. And 49.8 per cent ease themselves in the open. In stark contrast, 63.2 per cent of the households own a telephone connection — 53.2 per cent of mobile phones

Releasing the data, Registrar-General and Census Commissioner C. Chandramouli said the lack of sanitary facilities “continues to be a big concern for the country.” “Cultural and traditional reasons,” he argued, “and lack of education seemed to be the primary reasons for this unhygienic practice. We have to do a lot in these areas.”

However, the data also show significant deficits in areas that have nothing to do with cultural practices or poor education. For example, two-thirds of households continue to use firewood, crop residue, cow dung cakes or coal for cooking — putting women to significant health hazards and hardship.

The data also show that just 32 per cent of the households use treated water for drinking and 17 per cent still fetch drinking water from a source located more than 500 metres in rural areas or 100 metres in urban centres.

There has been an 11 percentage point increase in households using electricity, from 56 per cent to 67 per cent. The rural-urban gap for this indicator has dropped by seven percentage point, from 44 per cent to 37 per cent.

India, the data show, is now overwhelmingly made up of nuclear families — a dramatic change from just a generation ago, where joint families were the norm. Seventy per cent of the households consist of only one couple. Indian families are overwhelmingly likely — 86.6 per cent of them — to live in their own houses, but 37.1 per cent live in a single room.

Though there has been a nine percentage point jump in the numbers of households who own a two-wheeler, 45 per cent own a cycle, which remains the primary mode of transport.

The data cast light on the changing character of the media. There has been a 16 per cent increase in the number of households watching television, but a 15 per cent decline in the use of radios and transistors. A total of 47.2 per cent of households own a television; only 19.9 per cent have either radio or transistors.

Correction: The table has been edited to correct an error in earlier versions which suggested the number of households with (1) latrine facilities connected to a piped sewer system and (2) with no drainage system were 11.9 per cent and 48.9 per cent respectively of households with a latrine facility inside the house. In fact, these numbers are a percentage of all households.

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