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The Indian census and disability
March 26
Published on 27 Mar. 2010 12:49 AM IST
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First ever census in India was conducted in 1872 and since then carried out every decade without a break despite adversities like wars, epidemics, natural calamities, political unrest, etc. The upcoming Census of India 2011, the largest administrative exercise in the whole world, will be the fifteenth since 1872 and the seventh after Independence. A snapshot of the country’s population status, elucidating information on demographic and other key characteristics at a given point of time, the data generated by the Census operation is indispensable for development of sound policies and programmes aimed at fostering wellbeing of the country and its people. This data source serves the needs of scholars, businessmen, industrialists, planners, electoral authorities, and et al.
Data on disability dates back to the very inception of the Indian Census. But disability became invisible on paper after 1931 as questions on disability was excluded until it timidly reared its head again in the 1981 Census. Declaration of that year by the UN as “International Year of the Disabled”, and pressure from the ministry of Social Welfare, associations, voluntary organizations and individuals contributed to the inclusion of disability in the list of questions. But the resurrection of the question was severely disabled; it sought to list only those who were totally blind, totally crippled, and/or totally dumb. And not without expectation, the total number of persons with disability in India was only 0.16% of the population. But nonetheless, this resurrection was significant as a framework for further detailed investigation and to give a broad picture of the hardships faced by an extremely ‘large minority’ in India. Unfortunately, the question on disability was once again discarded in the 1991 census save the sample surveys conducted by the National Sample Survey Organization (NSSO) which projected disabled persons comprising 1.9% of the total estimated population. It was, by the sheer commitment and determination of some individuals like Javed Abidi Executive Director NCPEDP-DRG and other prominent activists and organizations that disability in a more comprehensible form was listed in the 2001 Census.
To further improve upon the same for the upcoming census, a round table on Disability and Census 2011 was convened by National Centre For Promotion of Employment For Disabled People (NCPEDP) on March 15th and 16th at India Habitat centre New Delhi. Dr. C.Chandramouli , Registrar General and Census Commissioner of India briefed the representatives (NGOs working on disability and disabled activists from more than 20 states and union territories of India) of Census 2011 and which was followed by interaction with the Commissioner. The two days deliberation dwelled on: Census questionnaire, the question on disability, training and sensitization of enumerators, awareness within the disability sector; amongst disabled people and families, advocacy with the central, state govts, media, private sector and all others. The task ahead for all stakeholders on disability and census 2011 is immense. With all the efforts put together, Census 2011 will truly be our census: Our future.
Allocation of funds and programs for Persons with Disability in India is woefully inadequate and Nagaland faces inadequate fund allocation for persons with disability. This is apparently not so because of fund paucity but more so because the Census data on the number of disabled persons in Nagaland is perhaps not even near the actual number. The 2001 Census projected 26, 499 (i.e. 1.3% of the population) of persons with disability in Nagaland while a modest estimation by a Network known as Community Based Rehabilitation (CBR) working with disabled persons estimates the same at 1, 32,880. The upcoming Census 2011 will again determine the population of persons with disability in Nagaland. The challenge to enumerate people with disability with near accuracy is not only on the enumerators who will be visiting each household to gather Census data, the challenge is also with the household/family with disabled persons to grasp the significance of Census data and make their disabled sons/daughters/family member be counted/to be visible in the corridors of power and scheme of fund allocations for their development and empowerment as equal citizens of the country.
For things to proceed in the right direction, proper planning is a prerequisite. And for proper planning, accuracy of Information is crucial. And accuracy of information for proper planning and adequate allocations lie heavily on the Census operation: diligence of the enumerators and accurate information by the respondents.
K. Ela, Prodigals’ Home, State Lead NGO for Census 2011.

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