Shihab Sarkar |
Jun 20, 2022 10:23:46 p.m.
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina inaugurated the country’s 6th population and housing census on June 15. The week-long national census is due to end on June 21. Held every 10 years, the population census plays a vital role in shaping socio- economic policies, plans to deal with many obstacles that stand in the way of the nation’s progress—and fix the botched measurements taken in previous censuses. Be it developed and wealthy countries or LDCs, no country can afford to circumvent the massive state-sponsored program held at regular intervals. Carrying out a successful national census is a colossal undertaking, indeed.
However, there are setbacks to this nationally important program. The general population of some countries, including many educated countries, does not pay much attention to population and housing censuses. Bangladesh is one of them. But the simple fact is that for Bangladesh, a proper population and housing census has recently emerged as a sine qua non. Experts call it highly critical, as the country has long been making every effort to transition from LDC status to developing country status. An incorrect census could create problems in Bangladesh, which has embarked on a number of ambitious projects apart from LDC graduation.
However, radical changes in attitude have taken place since the last population and housing census which took place in 2011. The current edition of the decennial (10-year) census was due to take place in 2021. But it has been postponed due to the raging corona. pandemic and other reasons.
The very first population census in Bangladesh took place in 1974. Since then, the government-funded Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics (BBS) conducts the census once every ten years. As a result, the last censuses were taken nationwide in 1981, 1991, 2001 and 2011. The present, the 6th National Population Census—delayed for a year–began rolling on June 15. The project is becoming clearer with the one-week census carried out this time digitally. According to the BBS, a total of 365,697 enumerators have been hired to collect population and housing data in all corners of the country.
Instead of the previous practice of the analog system, data collection for the 6th Population Census will be conducted through the digital system. To make this great goal fruitful, the smart young enumerators, men and women, have been equipped with the necessary digital paraphernalia. Each member of a team received a tab. On the Prime Minister’s directive, the BBS has removed pen/pencil and paper from this year. It was mainly the intelligent, educated and enthusiastic young people who were tasked with completing the headcount and collecting other information about family members, as well as their general living conditions, including their sources of income. In counting, floating populations are not left out. From this year, transgender people will also be included in the survey. Considering the heavy load of the mission, which requires the interviewers to resort to various techniques to obtain correct information about the respondents, the task of the interviewers justifies special state patronage and full infrastructural support. In addition to being stationed in the capital and other urban areas, teams of hardy men have also been dispatched to villages, some located in remote and truly inaccessible areas. Chattogram Hill Tracts (CHT) and Mid-River Tanks are among them.
The job of a census taker is almost daunting, as members of all these teams must convince people of lower and underprivileged classes that the census has nothing to do with eviction from their temporary shelters. Teams should elaborate on the idea that the population census will help the government identify sections of society that need urgent “state support”. In addition to internal resources, aid can come from outside — notably in the form of grants and subsidies. To quote those directly involved in censuses, and as seen in many countries, the need to create multi-faceted databases on the populations of the least developed countries, their socio-economic condition, the projects of future for their children constitute the essence of the national project. Ironically, the queries mean little to lower segments of society.
As a strategy, experts who visualize population censuses, as well as field workers, try to avoid jargon. Their use in censuses ultimately turns out to be futile. They are most needed at the stage of developing complex socio-economic projects at the macro and micro level. By addressing disadvantaged rural populations or shantytowns, the pragmatic way is the formulation of a questionnaire that directly addresses their daily realities — deprivations and dreams. In cities, many socially conscious people are reluctant to talk much about their personal lives. Not that they are afraid of state interference in their jealously guarded private lives. They just don’t want to dwell on family matters, especially queries from strangers. In some cases, even enumerator ID cards and other written evidence don’t work either.
Allegations of flawed population censuses stem primarily from this tendency not to open up too much and to maintain a cautious reticence. With the increase in many social complications, including mutual mistrust, suspicion, etc., it is feared that information gaps will continue to widen. These are vigorous campaigns by relevant agencies to make people understand the benefits of censuses; in the current social context, it can mitigate isolationist positions, breaking the self-woven cocoons.