Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina inaugurated the country's 6th Population and Housing Census on June 15. The week-long national census is set to be concluded on June 21. Being held every 10 years, the population census plays a critical role in charting out national socio-economic policies, plans for facing many a hurdle that stands in the nation's progress --- and fixing the sloppy steps taken in the previous censuses. Be they developed and rich or LDCs, no nation can afford to bypass the state-sponsored massive programme held at intervals. Conducting a successful national census is a massive project, indeed.
However, there are flipsides to this nationally important programme. The general people in a few countries, including many educated ones, do not bother much about the population and housing censuses. Bangladesh is one of them. But the bare fact is for Bangladesh a correct population and housing census has lately emerged as a sine qua non of sorts. Experts call it highly critical, as the country has long been putting in its best of efforts to graduate from its LDC status to that of a developing one. An incorrect census might create trouble for Bangladesh, which has embarked on a number of ambitious projects apart from the LDC graduation.
However, radical attitudinal changes have taken place since the last Population and Housing Census that took place in 2011. The ongoing edition of the decennial (10-yearly) census was scheduled to be held in 2021. But it was postponed due to the raging corona pandemic and other reasons.
The first-ever population census in Bangladesh was held in 1974. Since then the government-funded Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics (BBS) has been conducting the census once in a decade. Accordingly, the later censuses were held countrywide in 1981, 1991, 2001 and 2011. The present one, the 6th national population census --- delayed by one year, began rolling on June 15. That the government is attaching special emphasis to the nationwide project comes clear with the week-long census being carried out this time digitally. According to BBS, a total of 365,697 enumerators have been engaged for the task of collecting population and housing data from every corner of the country.
In place of the earlier practice of the analogue system, the data collection for the 6th Population Census will be carried out through the digital system. To make this grand objective fruitful, the young smart enumerators, both male and female, have been equipped with the necessary digital paraphernalia. Each of the members of a team has been given a tab. On the Prime Minister's directive, the BBS has done away with pen/pencil and paper from this year. It is mainly the smart, educated and enthusiastic youths, who have been given the task of completing headcount and collecting other information about the family members, and also their overall living conditions including their earning sources. Under the headcount, floating populations have not been left out. From this year, the trans-genders will also be brought under the survey. Given the heavy load of the assignment, which requires the enumerators to resort to various techniques of eliciting correct information about the respondents, the enumerators' task warrants special state patronage and all-out infrastructural backing. Alongside being stationed in the capital and the other urban areas, teams comprising hardy members, have also been dispatched to villages, some located in remote and veritably inaccessible areas. The Chattogram Hill Tracts (CHT) and mid-river Chars are among them.
The assignment of an enumerator is nearly daunting, because the members in all such teams have to convince the people of lower and underprivileged classes that the census has nothing to do with eviction from their temporary shelters. The teams have to elaborate on the idea that the population census will help the government identify as to which sections of society are in need of urgent 'state support'. Apart from internal resources, the help may come from the outside --- especially in form of aid and grants. To quote people directly involved with the censuses, and as seen in many countries, the need for creating multi-faceted data bases on a least developed nation's people, their socio-economic condition, future plans for their children constitute the essence of the national project. Ironically, the queries carry little meaning for the lower segments of society.
As a strategy, the experts who visualise population censuses, as well as the field-level workers, try to shun the jargons. Using them in censuses proves finally futile. They are needed most at the stage of chalking out complicated macro and micro-level socio-economic projects. While dealing with the rural underprivileged or slum-dwelling people, the pragmatic way is the formulation of a questionnaire which directly addresses their day-to-day life-related facts --- deprivations and dreams. In the cities, many socially aware people are found to be reluctant to talk much about their personal life. Not that they are afraid of the state's interference in their closely guarded privacy. They just do not want to elaborate on any familial matters, especially upon queries from strangers. In cases, even the enumerators' ID cards and other written proofs also do not work.
The allegations of flawed population censuses stem chiefly from this trend of not opening up much and maintaining a safe reticence. With the increase in many social complications, including mutual distrusts, suspicions etc., information gaps are feared to keep widening. It is vigorous campaigns on the part of the agencies concerned to impress upon people the benefits of censuses; in the present social context it can ease the isolationist stances, breaking the self-spun cocoons.