Demographic Condition in Colonial India: Census done by the British

The compilation of these Indian Economy on the Eve of Independence Notes makes students exam preparation simpler and organised.

Demographic Condition

The motive behind colonization was to reduce India to a feeder economy. Evidently, death, famines, and misery was a common feature of colonial India. Did you know the first official census by the British was recorded as late as 1881? This was because the Britishers were least interested in Indian demography. Notably, the demographic data collected since 1881 clearly indicates the plight of the Indian colony.

Demographic Condition in Colonial India

As discussed, the colonial government took no interest in conducting a census in India before 1881. In such a state, this job was taken up by some individuals like Findlay Shirras, Dadabhai Naoroji, V.K.R.V. Rao, etc.

However, the demographic data collected was not consistent and accurate. Notably, the estimates of V.K.R.V. Rao are considered the best. It was not until 1881 that the colonials were interested in studying Indian demography.

The colonial rule is characterized by two centuries of exploitation. Mostly, the policies and steps taken aimed at fulfilling British interests. Indian citizens were treated as slaves and servants. Under their colonial masters, they were deprived of even basic human amenities.

Thus hunger and death became a feature of colonial India. These coupled with famines and the influenza epidemic proved to be disastrous. Evidently, the life expectancy in India hit an all-time low under colonial rule.

The Official Demographic Data

Demographic condition of British India

The first census revealed unevenness in Indian population growth. Thereafter, a census was carried out every 10 years. Before 1921 India was in the first stage of demographic transition. The second stage of transition began in 1921. However, at this stage, both the population growth rate and the total population were very high.

Literacy levels were around 16 percent. Furthermore, the female literacy rate was 7 percent. This means that a majority of the Indian population was illiterate with even worse conditions for women. The Colonials took no steps to change the scenario. On the contrary, they emphasized snatching education away from Indian slaves reducing them to mere servants.

Colonial India was fighting to fill its empty stomach. This plight was further aggravated by the scarcity of public health facilities. A hunger-stricken state was thus also a victim of rampant air and water-borne diseases. Consequently, life expectancy was recorded to be 32 years! Then again mortality rates were skyrocketing, with an infant mortality rate at 218 per thousand.

There are no official records about poverty. Though it can be clearly concluded that widespread poverty was a common sight. Thus Indian population had to live in abject poverty, constant fear of diseases, starvation, and death. In a nutshell, the Indian demographic profile during colonial rule was horrible for human standards.


When was the first official census of colonial India recorded?
A. 1799
B. 1830
C. 1890
D. 1881
The correct option is “D”. The first official census conducted by the British government in India was in 1881, and this was also done after much delay.