India is often thought of as largely vegetarian, and it is true that the country consumes less meat per head than many others but data show that 80% of the population does consume meat in some form. Dig through the numbers across states and it’s easy to see just how misconceived the notions are that Punjabis, for instance, eat a lot of meat, and south Indians do not.
You can see the whole picture on a map created by software developer and data visualiser Ashris Choudhury and posted on his Instagram page @india.in.pixels. Using numbers from the union government’s Sample Registration System Baseline Survey 2014 and from Nutrition Journal, he created a colour-coded representation of India’s most- to least-vegetarian states.
Rajasthan (75%) topped the list of states with most vegetarians, followed by Haryana (70%) and, surprisingly, Punjab (67%). Lakshadweep, Telangana, West Bengal, Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Nagaland, Kerala and Jarkhand all have less than 3% of their populations eating no meat at all.
“From the comments on Instagram, it was clear that people were surprised and fascinated,” says Choudhury.
The 26-year-old who lives in Jharsuguda, Odisha, runs @IndiaInPixels accounts across social media platforms, using simple data-fed graphics to explain complex cultural concepts in interesting and relatable ways. Most of his graphics take the form of colour-coded political maps of India. Each one reveals something about the country that most people don’t know: the breakup by states of the number of sportspersons to qualify for the Tokyo Olympics; the number of registered doctors per 1 lakh of the population; the distribution of KFC outlets; the size of each state’s Wikipedia page in KB.
The maps have struck a chord. Since its launch in 2019, @IndiaInPixels has drawn 81,000 followers on Instagram, over 51,000 on Twitter and 112,000 subscribers on YouTube. “Data visualisation appealed to me as a designer who is also a software engineer,” says Choudhury, who studied architecture at IIT-Kharagpur before being selected for a one-year fellowship with the MIT Media Lab, a research body of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
He does all the work himself, from gathering the information and using an algorithm to scrape it (or convert it into a usable table), to mapping the data, and responding to the invariable questions and comments that follow. “If it’s going to be a map, I have the code for that,” says Choudhury. “If it’s something else, then I sketch it out and plan what shape it should take.”
Choudhury sources his data from government and university data portals. His most-used sources are the Census, Niti Aayog reports, Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation, and data from the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies. For international numbers, he refers to World Bank data and university databases.
“The public perception is that we don’t have data in this country,” he says. “But if you keep at it, you’ll find that there is data being collected at various levels. You don’t run out of topics to delve into.”
Choudhury is working on maps that represent more than numbers too. One such experiment maps the equivalent of “Bhaiyya” (as used when referring casually to someone you don’t really know) in every Indian state, with many of the terms crowd-sourced from his followers. It’s Bhaiyya, of course, in majority-Hindi-speaking states; “Bhau” in Maharashtra; “Bhaiji” and “Bhai saa” in Rajasthan; “Bhiya” in Bihar; “Anna” in Tamil Nadu and Karnataka; “Annaiya” in Andhra Pradesh and Telangana; “Chetta” in Kerala. And “Ado bah” in Meghalaya; “Au” or “Ka Pu” in Mizoram; and “Ate” in the Apatani dialect of Arunachal Pradesh.
“Reactions to these kinds of maps tell me that people are interested in niche, nerdy things like this too,” Choudhury says.
More than anything, Choudhury’s maps represent the multi-layered complexity of India. One that perhaps did this best is the July 2019 map that shot him to fame: If states were renamed for countries with similar populations (Gujarat would be Italy; Maharashtra’s population equalled that of Japan; and Rajasthan’s equalled that of the UK). “A couple of YouTubers reacted to it and overnight I went from a few hundred followers to 4,000,” Choudhury says. “I think as Indians we have internalised the fact that we are a big country with a big population. But when you see that every state has as many people as whole other countries, it’s pretty interesting.”
Make of it what you will, he adds. His aim is to present the data, not interpret it.
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