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India's reaches 1.21 billion population, boys still outnumber girls

media Schoolgirls in Mumbai Bernard Gagnon/Open access

India’s population has reached 1.21 billion – 17.5 per cent of the world population and nearly equal to the combined population of the US, Indonesia, Brazil, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Japan, according to preliminary census figures released this week.

But China still surpasses India with its 1.3 billion inhabitants.

Uttar Pradesh, the most populated Indian state, has 199 million people. Maharashtra in the west counts 112 million.

India’s total population has gone up 181 million in the past 10 years.

“This shows we have added population, but the growth rate has been less,” Census commissioner C Chandramouli said this week.

He also stressed that “the general sex ratio has gone up from 933 women per 1,000 men to 940”.

But India counts ever fewer girl children compared to boys – there were 914 girls for every 1,000 boys, down from 927 girls 10 years ago. The decline suggests that the government has failed to crack down on the abortion of female foetuses and other illegal gender-selection methods, usually employed by the affluent rather than the poor.

Literacy rates have jumped from 64.8 per cent in 2001 to 74 per cent, the census figures show.

The trend is particularly striking among women, with the total number of literate women soaring by nearly 50 per cent from 224 million in 2001 to 334 million.

Some analysts say the fall in the overall population growth rate is one of the direct consequences of rising female literacy levels. Other demographers note that the total population number is stabilising. India thus doesn’t need to worry about the “population bomb” any more, they say.

To conduct this census 2.5 million data collectors fanned out over a country with a mind-boggling variety of cultures, languages, and customs, not forgetting rebel groups in several regions. Final census figures are expected later this year.

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