Today, 73 years of independence later, India is inching towards becoming a 3 trillion+ economy. The nation has come a long way since those years of being ripped apart from her soul. Today we are successfully eradicating poverty at various levels and despite the economic showdown during Covid-19, India has reasons to smile. The demography shows that the majority of the Indian population comprises the youth, which means that while we are the oldest living civilization, we are also the youngest nation alive. The revolution continues to date.
However, let us turn back a few decades in time. What was the demographic condition of India like during the British Rule?
If we want to understand colonial India’s demographics, all we need to do is look at the census of 1881. There was tremendous inequality and apathy present in the population. The census would be performed every ten years post-1881. It was in 1921, that India began to undergo a demographic transformation of sorts. It is advised that you read this article well to get a complete understanding of the cruelties that prevailed upon the population during foreign rule through the last two-three centuries.
Demographics of British India
During 1921, India’s demographic statistics speak of the country’s deplorable situation. The cumulative or total growth in population was quite low with social development factors appearing unpromising. The literacy rate was a dismissible 16% with female literacy rates barely managing to reach 7%. Public health facilities were hardly accessible except for the elite rich. The common people barely had any access to them.
The infant mortality rate during those times was horrible. They were as much as 5 times more than the present rate of infant mortality. This was due to lack of access to nutritious food, unlawful activities restricting farmers and so much oppression that resulted in severe conditions such as malnutrition. The life expectancy was dismal, as less as half of what we have today.
While there is a lack of data regarding the rate of poverty in colonial India, various other factors such as famines, droughts, poor water conditions and so on tell us that people frequently died because of air and water-borne diseases. India’s population was facing extremely troubling times.
Demographic Characteristics of British India
The demographic conditions of people living in India colonized by the British can be put forth in the following manner -
Literacy Rate - Placed at 16% for the general population and just a dismal 7% for the female population, India’s literacy rate then was probably the lowest if we compare the 74% that we stand at today.
Standard of Living - At that time, people had to work hard to procure basic necessities like food, clothing and shelter. Hence they did not have anything left for looking at other areas of life. India was also affected by severe famines and droughts where a large number of people succumbed. The most horrific one was in West Bengal in 1943. The British Government practically did nothing for the well-being of the people. Anything that they ever introduced was to serve their own selfish petty interests. They destroyed the nation in every form - economically, mentally and uprooted her entire educational ecosystem.
Birth and Death Rates - While birth rate is defined as the number of children per thousand people in a year and death rate is defined as the number of people dying per thousand people in a year. British India had high rates for both these categories.
Bad Death Facilities - Due to lack of access to public health facilities, mortality rates were naturally high. Famines, droughts, air and water-borne diseases added to the increasing troubles.
Infant Mortality - Infant mortality is defined as the number of children successfully attaining the age of one year per thousand live births in a year. High infant mortality rates during British India can be attributed to high levels of poverty, malnutrition, fatal natural calamities and insufficient public health facilities. 218 out of 1000 was the infant mortality rate at that point.
Life Expectancy - The life expectancy rate is defined as the standard life duration for a person. Today the life expectancy rate is increasing due to technological advances. However, due to the living conditions in those times, the life expectancy rate was a disappointing 32 years. India had been reduced to being a mere feeder economy. It was one of the darkest invasions in the history of this civilization.