Report on the Census Of India, 1901


The Report on the Census of India, 1901, was written by Herbert Hope Risley and Edward Albert Gait, both British colonial administrators. The census presented an overview of British India’s history between 1891 and 1901 and summed up religious and social movements, educational efforts, and commercial and industrial progress.

In the authors’ view, the census also “enables the rulers of India to take stock of their position and see how it has fared with the people committed to their charge,” besides providing statistical data on which all administrative action should be based.

The census surveyed every province and gathered data on population, age, sex, religion, education, occupation, infirmities, languages and ethnic diversity. It also recapitulated data from earlier censuses about famine, and outbreaks of cholera and malarial fever that had led to declining birth rates and enhanced death rates. 


  1. The ‘Indian Empire’ covered an area of 1.76 million square miles (4.57 million square kilometres). This was 12,100 square miles (around 31,229 square kilometres) more than the whole of Europe, excluding Russia, Poland and Finland.

  2. The total population in March 1901 was 29.4 crores. Bengal was the most populated province with 78.5 million people, followed by the United Provinces of Agra and Oudh (48.5 million) and Madras (42.5 million).

  3. Only one-tenth of the population lived in urban areas; the remaining 90 per cent lived in villages.

  4. According to the 1901 Census, 6.42 lakh people migrated to British India from foreign countries; the number was 6 lakh in the 1891 Census and 4.09 lakh in the 1881 Census. As of March 1901, 13.74 lakh ‘natives of India’ migrated to other countries.

  5. Nearly five million people died due to famines in 1896-97 and 1899-1900.

  6. About half a million people died due to the bubonic plague, which was first detected in Bombay City in September 1896. It gradually spread to other parts of the country; Bengal, Mysore, Baroda and Hyderabad suffered greatly.

  7. Between 1890-91 and 1900-01, the total length of the railways increased by more than 50 per cent, from 17,000 to 25,000 miles (around 27,359 to 40,234 kilometres). This facilitated trade, especially during times of scarcity such as the famine of 1899-1900, when the affected provinces (excluding the Punjab) imported nearly 72 million maunds of food grains.

  8. 43,000 miles of canals were in operation in 1901, compared with only 9,000 miles in 1891. In 1901, the total irrigated area averaged 30 million acres, of which half was watered by irrigation works owned or controlled by the State.

  9. The output of Bengal’s coal mines in 1901 was 5.5 million tons – more than three times the output in 1891. The coal production in other parts of India in 1901 was more than a million tons – almost double of what it was in 1891. In the same period, the average number of daily-wage labourers in the coal mines increased from 35,000 to 95,000.

  10. The number of jute mills in Bengal went up from 25 in 1891 to 34 in 1901, and the number of employees rose from 61,000 to 1.1 lakh. In the same period, the number of cotton mills in Bombay increased from 89 to 138, and their workers grew from 78,000 to 1.07 lakhs.

  11. The female to male ratio was 963 females to 1,000 males. In the Central Provinces and Madras, women outnumbered men, and in Bengal both sexes were almost ‘on a par’.

  12. Among the larger provinces, Burma had the highest literacy rate because Buddhist monks imparted ‘indigenous free education’. Madras stood second, followed by Bombay, Bengal, Assam, the Punjab, the United Provinces and the Central Provinces.

  13. Of the total population, 68 of every 10,000 males and 7 of every 10,000 females were literate in English. The study of English was most popular in Bombay where 112 of every 10,000 males and 15 of every 10,000 females were acquainted with the language.

  14. Nearly two-thirds of the population pursued some form of agriculture – and this was their primary means of subsistence. 52 per cent were landlords or tenants, 12 per cent were field labourers, and about 1 per cent grew special products and managed estates.

  15. 70 per cent of the population was Hindu, 21 per cent was ‘Muhammadan’, 3 per cent Buddhist, 3 per cent ‘Animist’, and 1 per cent Christian. A little over 1 per cent was made up of Sikhs, Jains, Parsis, Jews and ‘small miscellaneous items.’

    Focus and Factoids by Sushmita Iyer.


H.H. Risley and E.A. Gait 


Public domain; originally published by Superintendent of Government Printing, Calcutta


01 Jan, 1903