Purpose: The purpose of this paper is to compare the new Census 2011 results with the results of the previous Censuses and assess the progress in trends of population growth, literacy rate, and sex ratio imbalance and also to highlight the critical socioeconomic issues based on short-term trends and patterns. Design/methodology/approach: The paper is structured in a "commentary and perspective" format. The paper assesses key demographic and socioeconomic features of India's population using 2011 Census data, and compares progress in population and social trends with the results of previous Censuses. The paper also uses data from the National Family Health Survey (2005-2006) and the United Nations World Population Prospects (2008) to complement Census results and understand the underlying reasons for the progress or deterioration in critical demographic and socioeconomic indicators. Findings: The provisional results of the 2011 Census data reveal a mixed bag of insights. On the positive side, there has been steady progress in population stabilization and a swift ascent in female literacy since 1991. These encouraging trends, among others, represent major driving forces of demographic and economic returns for India in the coming decades. However, on the negative side, the 2011 Census reveals a deplorable deterioration in the female-male ratio of the child population aged 0-6 years, despite India's enforcement of targeted policy measures following the 2001 Census. The country needs to take careful stock of this issue, as its advancing demographic transition and changing socioeconomic circumstances are rapidly translating into an adverse trend of girl child discrimination. Originality/value: This study compares India's most recent two Censuses and provides original analytical insights into India's progress in population stabilization and development, and the setbacks it faces in terms of gender inequalities. Region and state-wise analyses are additional contributions based on disaggregated state level data from the recent two Censuses.