The age returns in the British-administered Census of India between 1871 and 1931 were problematic. Owing to low levels of numeracy and poor records of births and deaths in India, census officials resorted to a number of technical innovations to generate useful statistical regularities out of the imperfect data. In the process, they came to realize that even so putatively a “universal” category as age might be impossible to determine accurately in a culture that lacked certain assumptions about time, and in a state that lacked the resources to tabulate when people began and ended their lives.

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