Guwahati, Monday, March 22, 2010
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Census questionnaire draws cautious optimism
Staff Reporter
 GUWAHATI, March 21 – Cautious optimism has been expressed by those working in the disability sector over the new questionnaire to be used by enumerators in the 2011 census. While seeing this as a positive sign, they believe that the final outcome would be determined by the level of training and motivation of the enumerators, and the response from the disabled and their family members.

It has been said that it was due to non-inclusion of the question about disabled people that the Government was not in possession of any data about this vulnerable section. Consequently, none of its policies and plans for the disabled could be based on correct facts and figures.

After prolonged lobbying by stakeholders, a question about the disabled was incorporated in 2001 census for the first time in independent India. “Even though a question was hastily included in the 2001 census, it was not designed well, and was quite often ignored during the enumeration process,” said Arman Ali, executive director of Guwahati-based Shishu Sarothi.

Ali said that the question to be used in the 2011 census is more inclusive than the one asked in 2001. It would seek to know what type of disability a citizen was suffering from. It would be able to identify seven types in all, which would eventually lead to the Government knowing about the bigger picture involving the country’s disabled.

He said that Shishu Sarothi’s Disability Law Unit would start a campaign to spread awareness about the new development so that the range of components involved in identifying the disabled and their disabilities can work effectively. “It is an opportunity that the disabled and the government cannot afford to miss,” he said.

One of India’s best known voices in the disability sector Javed Abidi speaking over the phone, told The Assam Tribune, that it was crucial for the enumeration process to treat the question with the seriousness it deserves, or else the disabled would continue to “an invisible group” so far policy and planning were concerned.

An Ashoka Fellow, Abidi is of the view that the disabled and their families must come forward and get counted if the enumeration was to succeed. He acknowledged that prevailing social attitude towards the disabled in places made it difficult for disabled people to assert their presence. However, such a mindset could actually harm the entire purpose of the enumeration process.

He urged the media, and especially the vernacular media, to play a supportive role to spread awareness and sensitise those who might shy away from getting themselves identified as disabled. Abidi said that proper training and motivation to the enumerators is a challenge, and the disability sector leadership has to ensure that the people who ask the questions actually do it right.

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