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Census-2011 sensitive to disabled population

Last updated: 10 April, 2010
By L Subramani 22:39 IST

While bureaucratic roadblocks and lack of will often meets any attempts by the disability sector to take their issues to the government, they were in for a surprise at the census office in Delhi.

In 2001, NGOs had to fight tooth and nail to include questions on disability in the census and settle for an inaccurate reflection of disabled population. If that experience is anything, the sector was expecting the worse at the census office, where they met the commissioner in February to insist on getting the questions right this time.
Dr Chandramouli, the man in charge at the Census office, dispelled their fears as he was entirely in agreement with the sector’s desire to reflect the disability population accurately.

“Things are looking up this time with a sensitised person at the helm,” reported the Disability News and Information Service (DNIS) run by the Delhi-based National Centre for Promotion of Employment for Disabled Persons (NCPEDP), unable to conceal the surprise of meeting an affable officer in Dr Chandramouli. Dissatisfied with the pre-testing results they had obtained on questions about disability, the census office asked NCPEDP to come up with suggestions.

First step
Winning the commissioner’s support was just the first of several steps the sector needed to take in order to get the desired result. “The sector is in no illusion about the complexities of the task at hand,” said Rama Chari, director, Diversity and Equal Opportunity Centre (DEOC), the Bangalore-based organisation that conducted a research study with the NGOs in recommending the right kind of questions to be included in the census questionnaire.

“Last time, NGOs had to really fight hard to include disability-related questions. The ineffectual nature of the question and the insensitive handling of the queries by enumerators meant that the result was incorrect.”

Indeed, census 2001 showed that 2.13 per cent of India’s population as disabled, a misleading figure given that several international agencies — including World Health Organisation (WHO) — have been claiming that the numbers could be anywhere between two to 10 per cent. However, the sector regards getting the questions in after a particularly tough battle with the officials was a victory last time.

While there were just five disabilities last time — seeing, hearing, speech, movement and mental — the sector, through the DEOC research study and through direct consultation, suggested seven categories including multiple disabilities and others. In particular, they insist that ‘mental’ disability must be divided into mental retardation and mental illness as they mean two different kinds of disabilities.

The suggestions — now with the technical committee of the Census Commission — were arrived after extensive consideration of the kind of questions asked by the other countries in their census and also some of the internationally-approved models.
Having compiled and submitted their suggestions to the commission, the sector is now gearing up to work with the state Census commissions to ensure the process of including disability-related questions and the training of the enumerators is done properly.
NGOs in Orisa and Assam have already started working with their respective commissioners, while NGOs in Karnataka are working on their own strategies before contacting the state commissioner.

“The other major task for the sector is to get the instruction manuals translated properly into all the languages,” Rama Chari said.

“The Census commissioner has assured inclusion of the sector in training the 90 master trainers at the top of the ‘cascade’ of trainers that would reach the 27 lakh enumerators. Sensitising them and ensuring that they ask the questions clearly and elicit correct response is vital to the exercise.”


As the head count begins in February 2011, the sector believes that it would have done all it could to assist the most complicated exercise in the world to get its due slice of numbers.

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