Resource centre on India's rural distress

Disability Rises in Urban India: Census 2011

The newly released disability data from Census 2011 shows that in a country of 2.68 crore disabled, nearly 69.5 percent stay in rural areas. Back in 2001, about 75 percent of the country's disabled resided in rural areas. The population of rural disabled persons has increased from about 1.64 crore in 2001 to 1.86 crore in 2011 i.e. by 13.7 percent. However, the population of urban disabled persons has increased from roughly 0.55 crore in 2001 to 0.82 crore i.e. by 48.2 percent. (See the links below for census data on disability).

The urban disabled person's population growth exceeding its rural counterpart during the past one decade can be partly attributed to changes in definitions of various types of disabilities between the two censuses. For example, in the area of sight, one eyed persons were treated as disabled at Census 2001. During the Census 2011 such persons have not been treated as disabled in seeing. At the Census 2011 enumerators were asked to apply a simple test to ascertain blurred vision. At Census 2001 no such instructions were given. Similar changes in definition have been adopted in areas like hearing, speech and movement. New categories like mental retardation and mental illness have been introduced in 2011, which were earlier covered under the category of mental disability in 2001. Two new categories-multiple disability and any other-have also been introduced in the latest Census.

In the Census 2001, information on five types of disability was collected whereas in the Census 2011 information on eight types of disability has been collected. It is claimed that the Census 2011 has been designed to cover most of the disabilities listed in the "Persons with Disabilities Act, 1995" and "The National Trust Act, 1999". However, disability rights groups have been demanding for a comprehensive Bill on disability that not only harmonizes four disability specific legislations i.e. the Mental Health Act 1987, Rehabilitation Council of India Act 1992, Persons with Disability (Equal Opportunities, Protection of Rights and Full Participation) Act 1995 and the National Trust Act 1999 but a Bill that also broadens the definition of disability.

The new Census data reveals that there has been a marginal rise in the proportion of disabled in the entire population from 2.13 percent in 2001 to 2.21 percent in 2011. The proportion of disabled population by type of disability is as follows: in seeing (18.8 percent); in hearing (18.9 percent); in speech (7.5 percent); in movement (20.3 percent); mental retardation (5.6 percent); mental illness (2.7 percent); any other (18.4 percent); and multiple disability (7.9 percent). Activists assert that road and industrial accidents and medical injuries are responsible for the high proportion of disabled with movement disability.

About 44.1 percent of disabled population in 2011 comprised females. However, female disabled person's population growth (27.1 percent) exceeded its male counterpart (18.9 percent) between 2001 and 2011.

The Census 2011 has noted that disability among Scheduled Tribes (STs) in lower age-groups upto 40-49 years is significantly lower than the other social groups. In the higher age group i.e. 60 years onwards, it is high among STs.


Presentation: Census of India 2011 Data on Disability (Please click here to get the document)

Census of India 2011 Data on Disability (please click here to get the data in excel file)

Census of India 2011 Data on Disability Scheduled Castes (please click here to get the data in excel file)

Census of India 2011 Data on Disability Scheduled Tribes (please click here to get the data in excel file)

Census of India 2001 Data on Disability (please click here to get the data in excel file)

PRS Legislative Research, Draft Rights of Persons with Disabilities Bill, 2012 (please click here)

Rural disabled undercounted in 2011 Census? -Rema Nagarajan, The Times of India, 28 December, 2013,

Disabled population up by 22.4% in 2001-11-B Sivakumar, The Times of India, 29 December, 2013,

Rights groups seek passing of disability Bill in Parliament, The Indian Express, 28 December, 2013,

Disability rights groups want introduction of Bill by February, The Hindu Business Line, 27 December, 2013,

Disabled people clear UPSC, but wait for service allocation -Rema Nagarajan, The Times of India, 2 December, 2013

Union budgets since 2008 show India spends 0.0009% of its GDP on disability -Moushumi Das Gupta, The Hindustan Times, 19 October, 2013,

'India records 5.2 million medical injuries a year' -Kounteya Sinha, The Times of India, 21 September, 2013,

Image Courtesy: National Association for the Blind,