Maharashtra emerged at the top of the list with 9,652 people who declared themselves to be atheists. Notably, 71 percent of them live in villages. Meghalaya was next with 9,089 atheists, followed by Kerala, with its strong political Communist traditions, at 4,896. Delhi had just 541 atheists and West Bengal, 784.
The HT report points out that these figures are much lower than the Global Religiosity Index estimates, released in 2012, which said that approximately 3 percent of the Indian population does not believe in God's existence.
A census official told the paper that about 2.9 million respondents or 0.24 percent of the population refused to divulge their religion and were listed under the category labelled, "religion not stated". It is likely that many atheists came under this category. Another government official pointed out that since census data gatherers rely on the information provided by the head of the family, it does not necessarily accurately reflect the beliefs of younger family members.