India struggles to count its millions

NEW DELHI, May 18, 2010 (AFP) – In a labyrinthine district of New Delhi, Kalpana Singh is busy knocking on doors, straining to make out house numbers scratched on the walls and warmly greeting residents with a smile.

She is on a mission to record and document the occupants of the teeming and decrepit area in a routine being repeated daily across the chaotic country as part of the the 2011 national census.

The scale of the task is vast, the complications enormous and the effort and patience required in the summer heat of over 40 degrees Celsius (104 degrees Fahrenheit) admirable.

The census, undertaken every decade since 1872, will see 2.5 million staff fan out over a country with a bewildering range of cultures, languages and customs, rebel movements and at least 600,000 villages.

Kalpana, a teacher recruited for the exercise, has been given a mainly Muslim area of New Delhi in the north of the city, with 100 buildings and approximately 400 households. Two local adolescents serve as guides.

“Do you have toilets? A mobile phone? a bank account? Which caste are you from?”, the same questions are repeated over and over again at each house.

The one on caste was a controversial late addition

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