A serious allegation
The allegation raised by leaders of ethnic minority communities and people working with the physically and mentally challenged sections of the population that members of these two groups have been undercounted in the 5th Population and Housing Census 2011 made public by the president Zillur Rahman on Monday is indeed serious. According to a report published in New Age on Tuesday, while the Household Income Expenditure Survey conducted in 2011 by the Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics put the number of people with disability at 9.07 per cent, the final report census puts the figure at only 1.4 per cent. At the same time, the report counted the ethnic minority population at 1,586,141 although, as the general secretary of the Bangladesh Adivasi Forum claims, their actual number is no less than 30 lakh. Also in the 2001 census, pertinently, both the groups have allegedly been undercounted. In line with that census report, the number of the ethnic minority people was only 12 lakh and people with disabilities comprised 0.6 per cent of the total population. It would not be an exaggeration to suggest that all this points to the general predilections of the ruling quarters to presenting these two groups of vulnerable people as demographically lower than they really are, apparently to deny their constitutional rights.
According to the adivasi forum secretary, the latest census covered only the members of the 27 ethnic communities mentioned in the recently promulgated Small Ethnic Groups’ Cultural Institutions Act although there are over 45 such groups in the country. Moreover, a huge number of people of these communities have been counted not by their ethnicity but by their religion. On the other hand, the director of the National Forum of Organisations Working with the Disabled has mainly held some problems in questionnaires used for the census responsible for the numbers of people with disabilities to become much lower than the actual data. As he alleged, the authorities concerned have put only questions relating to autism on the questionnaire leaving out other types of mental impairment. Additionally, the questionnaires could only identify people with ‘severe’ disabilities that were visible to all, whereas, in a mostly backward society like ours where any sort of disability—physical or mental—is regarded as a stigma, people in general have a tendency to hide such issues. Above all, the lack of sincerity among the enumerators, most of whom have reportedly been selected on partisan consideration, to go door to door to successfully accomplish the huge task crucial to framing different national policies may well have, at least partly, contributed to the undercounting of both the groups.
The government is well advised to make a course correction and take separate census, if needed, to determine the actual figure of the people belonging to the two groups in question.
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