General Report on the Census of India, 1891


The 1891 Census was conducted under the supervision of Jervoise Athelstane Baines, then the census commissioner of British India. Baines joined the Indian Civil Service in 1870 and was the deputy superintendent of the 1881 Census of Bombay Presidency. He was later appointed the superintendent of the countrywide census in 1891.

This census gathered data from the provinces of British India and the ‘feudatory states’. Unlike the 1881 Census, it covered Kashmir, Sikkim, Upper Burma and “the frontier tribes in Assam and the far east”. However, it did not cover Nepal, Bhutan, the border tribes of Balochistan, and the coastal settlements ‘dependent’ on Aden (in Yemen today).

The population was surveyed on the basis of age, sex, caste, religion, race, literacy, kinship, marriage, occupation, infirmity and language. More than a million enumerators conducted the survey using schedules in various languages.

As compared to the previous census, this one used some new classifications. For instance, it made a distinction between ‘religious divisions’ and ‘social classes’ and used four new categories: religion; sect of religion; caste, tribe or race; and subdivision of caste, tribe and nationality. Further, the number of people supported by a particular occupation was recorded – and not just the number of people working in it. Workers and non-workers were differentiated based on age and a subsidiary category of ‘dependents’ was introduced. 


  1. The population in the provinces of British India and the ‘feudatory states’ was 284,773,542 (284.77 million). The population density was 184 persons per square mile. 

  2. Of the 717,549 (7.15 lakh) places surveyed by the census, only 2,035 were towns; the remaining were villages.

  3. The sex ratio in British India was 958 females per 1,000 males. The density of the female population was the highest in Madras (1,022 females per 1,000 males) and the lowest in Khairpur, Sindh (814 females per 1,000 males).

  4. The period between 15 and 44 years was considered the ‘prime of life’. 4,588 of every 10,000 men and 4,628 of every 10,000 women were in this age group.

  5. Of all provinces, Panjáb (now Punjab), Sindh and Assam had the highest proportion of children – all three very fertile tracts. Punjab and Sindh also had a considerable number of elderly people. The high population figures at both extremes seemed to indicate, in the census’s view, a higher standard of living in these areas.

  6. Of every 10,000 persons, 7,460 were from the Indic-Aryan linguistic group, 2,021 from the Dravidian linguistic group, 113 from the Kolarian linguistic group, 278 from the Tibeto-Burman linguistic group, 51 from the Eranic-Aryan linguistic group, 27 from the Sinitic linguistic group, 9 from the European-Aryan group, 2 from the Semitic linguistic group, 15 from the Gipsy dialects group, and 7 from the Khasi dialects group. 

  7. Each occupational group was divided into various sub-groups. Of every 10,000 individuals, 2,988 worked in agriculture (the largest occupational group), 1,007 were artisans, 1,073 worked with leather and did other ‘menial’ jobs, 428 were traders, 755 worked as professionals, and the remaining were forest tribes, fisherfolk, pastoralists, carriers, ‘vagrants’, and so on. 

  8. 72.33 per cent of the population followed the Brahmanic religion. Of the remaining, 19.96 per cent followed Islam, 3.23 per cent animistic religions, 0.66 per cent Sikhism, 0.49 per cent Jainism, 0.03 per cent Zoroastrianism, 2.48 per cent Buddhism, 0.006 per cent Judaism, 0.8 per cent Christianity, and the remaining did not specify a religion.

  9. 94.16 per cent of the population was illiterate. (An illiterate person couldn’t read and write, or could read but not write, or could sign his/her name but not read.) Of the remaining, 4.62 per cent was literate and 1.22 per cent was recorded as ‘learning’.

  10. Of all the males surveyed, 89.09 per cent were illiterate, 8.66 per cent were literate and 2.25 per cent were ‘learning’. Of all the females, 99.48 per cent were illiterate, 0.42 per cent were literate and 0.15 per cent were ‘learning’.

    Factoids and Focus by Neeti Prakash.


Jervoise Athelstane Baines 


Public domain; originally published by India Office, London 


10 Jul, 1893