Guest post by AVINASH SHAHI
The 2011 Census release on disabled population in India is shocking, exposing the fallacious methodology and technique used by census enumerators while counting the disabled population in the country. According to census figures, the population of disabled people has gone up to 26.8 million in 2011. In the last decade the numbers have increased just below six million from 21.9 million in 2001. Surprisingly, these low numbers follow the collaboration between the Census Commission, NCPEPD and Diversity and Equal Opportunity Centre (DEOC) for sensitizing, and imparting training to census master trainers.
The idea was to frame questions on disability and include these in the Census questionnaire. Nonetheless, millions have yet again been rendered invisible. In 2001, the Census Commission collected data on five categories of disability among different disabled groups, and found that visual disability emerged as the top category at 48.5%. The other disabilities population enumerated by the census were as follows in descending order: In movement (27.9%), Mental (10.3%), in speech (7.5%), and in hearing (5.8%). In contrast, the 2011 Census initial release percentage among different disabled categories has changed drastically. The persons with blindness now stand at third place.
In the 2011 Census, despite eight categories unlike five in the previous Census count, 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 over 18 million in the rural areas and just 8.1 million enumerated in the urban settings. The percentage of men with disabilities is 2.41 as against 2.01 in women. In percentage terms, it has merely risen from 2.13 per cent to 2.21 per cent. It seems the enumerators were not sensitized and made aware amply about counting disabled particularly in rural India.
In India, despite huge disability, ascertaining exact data on disability is really a daunting task simply because census enumerators do not ask disability related questions in ways that would elicit accurate responses. Just consider two ways of asking questions: (A) do you have any disability? (B) Do you have difficulty seeing, even if you wear glasses? Both questions will elicit different answers. However, our enumerators only ask whether any member of the household is disabled? Or do you have disability? Such questions are unlikely to elicit correct response from households, because the stigma attached with disability prevents people from revealing disability. Therefore how questions are asked is very important to get exact figures. Besides, what disability means is not shared a discourse, and therefore the nature of question asked must factor in the difficulties of translating lived experience framed by cultural categories into governmental categories.
Purpose of census: The census exercise is undertaken for various purposes such as monitoring of functioning in population, provisioning of services and equalization of opportunities. Yet governmentality 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 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 gain equal opportunity in their lives. But census figures of 2011 has done injustice to millions disabled persons who will be left out from obtaining services for their subsistence.
The World Bank Report on Disability in India in 2007: The World Bank undertook an exercise for counting disabled people for commissioning 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, this 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, 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. It is then perplexing that the 2011 Census has excluded millions disabled population which is a grave concern for disability sector. The marginal increase in the disabled population showed by the Census 2011 clearly reflects the able-bodied neo-liberal politics of the Indian state posing newer challenges for disability rights activism in India. 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 2.1 billion population enumerate only 2.21 per cent disabled population.
Avinash Shahi is researching disability rights for his M.Phil dissertation at the Centre for the Study of Law and Governance