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Our Census, Our Future: Disability sector puts up a United Front

According to the Census of 2001, only 21 million people are disabled in India which is a very small number as compared to the total population of this country. The government that already has too many things on its platter is not too keen to look at our small number. To ensure that the numbers are set right and that the ‘Question on Disability’ is asked properly in Census 2011, N.C.P.E.D.P. organised a two day National Consultation on March 15 and 16 at India Habitat Centre, New Delhi. Rohinee Singh reports.

The hard reality is that about 70 million people in India have some kind of disability. Going by U.N. figures there should be about 100 million people with disabilities in this country. The government of India refuses to accept those numbers. And they have a valid reason to do so, because as per the 2001 Census, only 2.1 percent of the 1.2 billion Indians are disabled.

Despite stiff resistance from the then government, the disability sector ensured that a question on disability was added for the first time in the Census of 2001. However, because it was added to the Census questionnaire in the last hour, it could not be framed satisfactorily. Feedback from people with disabilities from across the country indicates that on many occasions the question was not asked properly or was not asked by the enumerators at all. No wonder the numbers were so low.

Census 2011 is the time for us to get our numbers right. And this is ‘once in a decade opportunity’ for all of us.

Debating the question on disability
Debating the question on disability

We had almost missed the bus this time too, had Javed Abidi, Honorary Director, National Centre for Promotion of Employment for Disabled People (N.C.P.E.D.P.) not met the Registrar General and Census Commissioner of India, Dr. C. Chandramouli just in the nick of time.

When Abidi met Dr. Chandramouli on February 1, the pre- test of Census 2011 was already over and the question on disability had more or less been finalised. What was shocking for us was to learn that none of the other N.G.O.s or activists of the disability sector had made any recommendation to the Census Commissioner until then. Had N.C.P.E.D.P. not approached the Commission just in time, we would probably have had to wait for another 10 years before we could get the disability statistics right.

N.C.P.E.D.P. made a request to the Census Commissioner to allow the disability sector to reframe the question on disability and to draft the guidelines of the enumerators’ manual for the same. Dr. Chandramouli very kindly agreed to this request. As a result, the recommendation of the disability sector will now be put forward before the Technical Advisory Committee of the Census Commission for their favourable consideration.

Taking its vision of a cross disability movement forward, N.C.P.E.D.P. along with the British High Commission, the Disabled Peoples’ Organisation – Denmark and Hans Foundation organised a two day Round Table Consultation at India Habitat Centre, New Delhi on March 15 and 16. More than 90 delegates representing various disabilities from across various geographic regions of the country were present at the meet.

Dr. C. Chandramouli inaugurated the Round Table. He said that this time the slogan of Census 2011 is “Our Census, Our Future” and that every individual of the country should get counted. “Getting oneself counted is important. The Census should be like a mirror to show a clear picture of the nation. It will help the government, policy makers and even the non government sector. It helps in formulating plans, generating funds and acting in the right direction,” he explained.

Dr. Chandramouli asked Abidi and other stakeholders present to, as far as possible, evolve a consensus on the disability question to be incorporated in Census 2011.

A research on the disability question was conducted by Diversity and Equal Opportunity Centre (D.E.O.C.) on N.C.P.E.D.P.’s behalf. It was based on the disability question asked in 11 countries including developing and developed countries, the question as suggested by the Washington Group and the question based on United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. A detailed report based on the findings of the research study was presented by Rama Chari, Director, D.E.O.C.

After a day long discussion and a war of words and with options not to exceed more than nine, the participants of the Round Table were finally able to agree to a common question.

Abidi emphasised on the need to look at the broader picture. “We are not here to just look at our own disability. Our approach should be on how to get the disability count right. The Census of 2011 is going to be a turning point for the Indian disability sector,” he said.

Unlike Census 2001, when only seeing, speech, hearing, movement and mental disabilities were enumerated, Census 2011 will distinguish between mental retardation and mental illness in order to collect separate statistics for these two often neglected groups. Also, the question will have the option of multiple disabilities and another option entitled ‘any other disability’. This is absolutely vital because last time several disabilities were left out because there was no slot for them in the way the disability question was framed and asked.

Abidi made an appeal to the stakeholders to plan Census 2011 awareness campaigns in their areas through their networks. Members from Leh in the north to Andaman and Nicobar Islands down south have agreed to prepare teams in their respective areas. These teams will play an important role in sensitizing the local people as to why it is so important for disabled people to get themselves counted. They will also work closely with the team conducting the enumerators’ training and will act as watch dogs to ensure that enumerators have a clear understanding on the disability question.

Abidi also announced that five Zonal Workshops will be conducted in North, South, East, West and North – East zones later this year, once the question on disability is finalised and the enumerators’ manual is ready.

Click here to read N.C.P.E.D.P.'s Research Study on the Disability Question for Census 2011

Click here to see Dr. C. Chandramouli's presentation at the Round Table