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Census 2011: Disappointing Data on Disability

This article was orginally written for Kafila by Avinash Shahi, Advocacy Officer, Score Foundation. 

Please note that Eyeway's Blog entries reflect the opinions of the author and contributors, meant to encourage debate and discussion, and not Score Foundation's official policy position.

The recent 2011 Census which were released recently, are quite shocking with respect to the figures about the disabled population in India. The figures clearly indicate that the medical methodology and technique were once again used by Census Enumerators while counting disabled population in the country. According to Census figures, the population of disabled people has only gone up 6 million, from 21.9 million in 2001 to 26.8 million in 2011. Surprisingly, these figures were arrived upon, after the Census Commission involved NCPEPD and Diversity and Equal Opportunity Centre (DEOC) to sensitize, imparting training to Census master trainers and framing questions on disability to be included in the Census questionnaire. Despite all this, millions have still again been rendered invisible.

In 2001, the Census Commission collected data on five categories of disability, and found disability in seeing emerged as the top category at 48.5%. Others in descending order were: In movement (27.9%), Mental (10.3%), in speech (7.5%), and in hearing (5.8%). Upon closer inspection of the 2011 Census figures it seemed further glaringly obvious that  initial release percentage among different disabled categories have changed drastically. This means that persons with blindness now stand at third place.

In 2011 Census, despite eight categories unlike five in the previous Census, there are 14.9 million men with disabilities as compared to 11.8 million women in the country with the total number of disabled people pegged at over 18 million in the rural areas and just 8.1 million in the urban settings. The percentage of men with disabilities is 2.41 as against 2.01 in women. In percentage terms, the overall figure has merely risen from 2.13 per cent to 2.21 per cent of the total population. It would seem the enumerators were not sensitized enough about counting disabled people particularly in rural India.

In India, despite huge disability, ascertaining exact data on disability is a daunting task simply because Census enumerators do not ask disability related questions in right way so as to elicit accurate responses. Just consider two ways of asking questions:  (A) do you have any disability? (B) Do you have difficulty seeing, even if wearing glasses? Both ways will elicit different answers. However our enumerators only ask if any member in the household is disabled. Such questions are unlikely to elicit correct response from households, because stigma attached with disability prevent Indians from revealing disability. Therefore how questions are asked is pivotal to get exact figures.

The Census exercise is undertaken for various purposes like-monitoring of functioning in population (i.e. activities different groups of people are engaged in) and provisioning of services and equalization of opportunities. Yet government does not take disability seriously even though there is far more public awareness and advocacy today for disability rights. It would appear that the census design is exclusionary since it is now an accepted principle that the more people who are living with particular functional limitations, the more visible the issue will be. The data on disability is collected to design and implement programmes aimed at providing services to the disabled population. Data on Disability also helps policy makers to assess the impact of having a limitation on individual and their families; the aim of inclusive development is to enable all people to have equal opportunity in their economic-social lives. But Census figures of 2011 has done injustice to millions of disabled persons who will be left out from obtaining services for their sustenance.

In 2007 the World Bank undertook the task of counting the number of disabled people across the globe to be able to accurately commission international aid, and found, “While estimates vary, there is growing evidence that people with disabilities comprise between 4 and 8 per cent of the India population (around 40-90 million individuals)”.

Interestingly, the report was “prepared at the request of the Government of India. In fact, it acknowledges “the guidance of officials of the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment, in particular guidance provided by an inter-ministerial Technical Advisory Group set up for the work by MOSJE and consisting of representatives from the Ministries of Health, Labour, Human Resource Development and Rural development, as well as an NGO representative.” In short, the World Bank Team had the full backing and support of the Government of India and many State governments. Despite such finding by an International Agency, the 2011 Census has excluded millions of disabled people which is a grave concern for disability sector.

The marginal increase pointed out by the Census 2011 with regard to the disabled population clearly indicates the apathy and lack of political will on the part of Indian state to empower disabled people. Indian state has evaded its responsibility of a democratic and welfare state which is constitutionally committed to work for all sections of its citizens, by not counting disabled people in the right manner. Thus, it is a crucial time for individuals, groups, NGOs, and academicians working in Disability sector to raise their voice so that the state adopts the right methodology while counting disabled people.

We can only hope that the National Sample Survey Organization will use more inclusive methods of enumeration. It is indeed ironic that developed countries have a higher percentage of disabled despite less population, and developing countries like India whose population is 1.2 billion population enumerate only 2.21 per cent disabled population.


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