restricted access Caste Confusion and Census Enumeration in Colonial India, 1871–1921

The colonial censuses of India were colossal attempts to enumerate castes according to a hybrid taxonomy that mixed local knowledges with European preconceptions and misconceptions. From 1871 onward, colonial administrators were determined to categorize and count the castes of India, yet experienced many difficulties in classifying, enumerating, and compiling caste data. The administrative practice of census making and taking in colonial India during the 1890s incorporated anthropometric and ethnological tools from “scientific” anthropology. The introduction of these measures in the census schedule and in enumeration furnished caste with a biological and racial connotation. Yet this biological vision of caste never fully took hold and was contested by colonial administrators and Indian political activists who did not believe in anthropometry. In detailing the complications of colonial census work in India, the authors show that epistemological problems with envisioning and enumerating caste were the rule rather than the exception.