Sunday, 29 December 2013

Indian Rural disabled undercounted in 2011 Census?

Rural disabled undercounted in 2011 Census?

Lack of awareness in rural areas regarding the enhanced definition of disability in census 2011 could have led to severe undercounting of the disabled, the bulk of whom reside in rural India. Rural areas account for almost 70% of the population of people with different kinds of disabilities. Yet the increase in the number of persons with disabilities (PWDs) in the rural areas is barely 14% compared to a whopping 48% increase in urban areas. This has led experts to conclude that PWDs in rural areas were probably undercounted. 

This undercounting is believed to have contributed to the disabled population going up to just 26.8 million from 21.9 million in the last census in 2001, i.e. from 2.13% of the population in 2001 to 2.21%. This is in contrast to most neighbouring countries such as China, Nepal, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka, where PWDs account for about 4-6% of the population.

The 2011 census had made special efforts to ensure that all PWDs were counted and an enhanced definition of disability was used. While census 2001 collected information on only five types of disabilities, in 2011, information on eight types of disabilities was included. The census office had roped in the National Centre for Promotion of Employment for Disabled People (NCPEDP) and its partners to develop training modules and had involved them in training and sensitising census enumerators. Despite these efforts, the total number seems rather low compared to the estimated 70 million population of PWDs.

NCPEDP convenor Javed Abidi said that he was disappointed at how low the numbers were despite all efforts to ensure better coverage. "With the expanded definition of disability, we had expected that it would be at least 4% plus. But just 2.2% is a disappointment. It cannot be a coincidence that the increase was just 14% in rural areas and 48% in urban areas. I guess our campaign was restricted to the urban population, especially metros and state capitals. This is a wake-up call for the disability sector. We have a long way to go in reaching the bulk of the PWDs, who are in rural areas," said Abidi. 

Not only PWDs, but also local enumerators in rural areas would need more training on how to count PWDs under the enhanced definition for which the government too would need to launch awareness drives among census enumerators in particular and the rural population in general.

The disability sector is however elated that, for the first time, census 2011 has yielded data on the population of people with mental illness, mental retardation and those with multiple disabilities and even those with 'other' kinds of disabilities. Earlier, the focus was largely only on visual, locomotor, speech and hearing impairment.

Almost half a crore people have been identified with "any other" disability, while over 1.5 million persons with mental retardation or intellectual disability have been identified. The census counted over 7.2 lakh persons with mental illness.

The census data also revealed that the scheduled castes had the highest proportion of PWDs in their population, about 2.5% compared to just 2.1% among scheduled tribes and 2.2% among the general population.

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