Census of India, 1921; Volume I; Part I - Report


The report on the Census of India, 1921 – the fifth general census – was prepared by J.T. Marten, the then census commissioner of India. Marten had also prepared the census reports for the Central Provinces and Berar in 1911.

The 1921 Census covered the population of the entire ‘Indian Empire’, including the British provinces and the ‘Indian States’. It collected information on birthplace, religion, age, sex, marriage, literacy, language, infirmity, occupation, urban and rural areas, and caste, tribe, race and nationality.

This census also assessed the impact of the 1918 influenza epidemic and the First World War (1914-18) on India. The epidemic increased mortality rates in India, and 58,238 of the 1.25 lakh troops in the Indian Army units and labour corps died in the war. 


  1. The ‘Indian Empire’was spread across 1.8 million square miles, which exceeded its total area in the 1911 Census by around 2,675 square miles. Around 61 per cent of the total area in 1921 was British territory and the remaining 39 per cent belonged to the ‘Indian States’

  2. The population of India was more than 318 million and the overall population density was 177 persons per square mile. The average population density in the British provinces and the Indian States was 226 and 101 persons per square mile, respectively.

  3. The overall sex ratio of India was 945 females per 1,000 males. In the provinces and states, the highest sex ratio was in Bihar and Orissa (1,029 females per 1,000 males), while the lowest was in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands (288 females per 1,000 males). 

  4. Of the 6.87 million places surveyed, 2,313 were urban and 6.85 million were rural. Approximately 10.2 per cent of the total population lived in urban areas, while 89.8 per cent lived in rural areas.

  5. The 1918 influenza epidemic spread in two phases: in the first, less virulent phase (June 1918 onwards), urban areas were affected; in the second, more virulent phase (September 1918 onwards), rural areas were severely affected.

  6. The 1921 Census observes that the sex ratio across India fell in the previous two decades. The birth statistics, the census says, suggest that the proportion of girls born to that of boys born declined during this period. It also says that in the five years before 1921, the decline in the proportion of women was because of the high number of deaths due to plague and influenza among women and "the absence of famine mortality which selects adversely to males" (that is, relatively lower number of deaths among men than women during famines). It also found that the sex ratio was higher in the south and east, and lower in the north and west – a trend seen in previous censuses too.

  7. Nearly 71 per cent of the country’s population was engaged in agriculture, 10 per cent in industry (mostly in the ‘unorganised industries’), less than 6 per cent in trade, less than 2 per cent in transport (mostly of agricultural products), 1.5 per cent in administration, and the rest in “domestic, miscellaneous and unproductive” occupations.

  8. Hindus were the largest religious group (6,841 per 10,000 of the population), followed by Muslims (2,174 per 10,000), Buddhists (388 per 10,000), ‘Tribals’ (309 per 10,000), Christians (150 per 10,000), Sikhs (103 per 10,000) and Jains (37 per 10,000).

  9. Nearly 222 ‘vernacular languages’ were spoken in India, of which 19 belonged to the Austric linguistic family, 145 to the Tibeto-Chinese family, 15 to the Karen family, 2 to the Man family, 14 to the Dravidian family, 25 to the Indo-European family, and 2 to the ‘unclassed languages’. Around 315.5 million people spoke these languages, nearly 2.1 lakh spoke ‘vernaculars of other Asiatic countries’, and 3.1 lakh spoke European languages.

  10. 139 per 1,000 males were literate in English, as were 21 per 1,000 females. While Burma recorded the highest overall literacy rate (317 per 1,000 of the population), Travancore recorded the highest female literacy rate (173 per 1,000 females).

    Focus and Factoids by Neeti Prakash.


J.T. Marten


Public domain (originally published by the Superintendent of Government Printing, Calcutta)