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The Indian workforce — who counts?

Rasheeda Bhagat

The Census figures reveal that out of our total population of 1.02 billion, 402.51 million people work; of these, 275.46 million are men and 127.05 million women.

CHENNAI, March 23

EVER wondered how many people in our population of 1.02 billion can be classified under the ``workers'' category? And of these how many are male and female, and how many in the `main' and how many in the `marginal categories'?

The 2001 Census data for "workers and non-workers" has been published and the figures make an interesting read. Of course, with the task of "home making" not having being taken into consideration as "work", our female workforce is smaller than its male counterpart. Also, and as you would expect, the gap between male and female workers narrows down substantially in the rural areas.

When it comes to classification of work into "main" and "marginal", the ``second sex'' outnumbers the first in the latter section. For this classification, the Census puts those who work for at least 183 days a year in the "main" category and those who work less than 183 days a year in the "marginal" category.

The Census figures reveal that out of our total population of 1.02 billion, 402.51 million people work; of these, 275.46 million are men and 127.05 million women. The rural workforce is naturally much larger. Out of a total of 740.25 million rural inhabitants, 310.65 million constitute the rural workforce with 199.2 million being male and 111.46 million female.

In the urban population, out of a total 284.99 million, 91.86 million people constitute the urban workforce. Here the female component is much lower; against 76.26 million working men, there are only 15.59 working women. In other words, for every five men who work, there is only one woman who works in an income-generating activity in urban India. The remaining — as also the women who work — are, of course, busy with household work.

By that account, rural women are more burdened: not only do they participate in larger numbers in economic activity, they would have to return home from that activity and to continue to work; in cooking and cleaning chores, not to mention child-bearing and child-rearing responsibilities.

In the rural areas, the male-female work ratio is 1.74 working men for every single working woman.

Now let us take a look at the "main" and "marginal" categories. In the total workforce, of the 89.34 million "marginal" workers, 34.94 million are men and a far larger number, 54.4 million, are women. Obviously, those engaged in marginal areas get much smaller economic returns, not to mention benefits, and sure enough, women are the "marginalised" group here.

In the urban workforce, the gender distribution of the marginal workers is more equitable; with 5.08 million men out of a total workforce of 8.36 million belonging to the "marginal" category and women in this group totalling 3.28 million. This would roughly mean 1.74 men for every woman.

For those who are interested in the number of Indian adults being employed or coming under the "worker" category, we would have to arrive at the figure through a slightly circuitous route.

In the age-wise category, we have 150.42 million of the population in the 0-6 years category (17.94 per cent of the total population) and 161.94 million (19.31 per cent) in the 7-14 years category. This together constitutes 37.25 per cent of the population.

The 15 to 59 years segment constitutes 55.43 per cent of the population and totals 464.83 million; and the 60+ years group has 56.68 million people. Presuming that the 15 to 59 years age group roughly constitutes the work force - even though a lot of us would consider the 15 to 18 year group as children - the Census figures reveal that of the 464.83 million in this segment, 402.51 million are engaged in income generating activity and hence are classified "workers".

Literacy

Moving over from workers to literacy, the figures are pathetic and downright dismal for women. Our overall literacy rate is only 52.21 per cent; with male literacy being 64.13 per cent and female literacy 39.29 per cent.

Urban literacy is a reasonably good 73.08 per cent with male literacy rates being 81.09 per cent and female literacy 64.05 per cent.

Kerala, of course, has the most literate numbers, with a literacy rate of 89.8 per cent.

Female literacy is the worst in Rajasthan, at 21.4 per cent, and in the Barnar district of Rajasthan, only 7.7 per cent women are literate.

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