INTRODUCTION: In high-income countries, the self-rated health (SRH) item is used in health surveys to capture the population's general health because of its simplicity and satisfactory validity and reliability. Despite scepticism about its use in low-income and middle-income countries, India implemented the SRH item in many of its demographic and population health surveys, but evidence of its validity is lacking. The objective was to assess the construct validity of the SRH item in India. METHODS: Data for 4492 men and 4736 women from the Indian sample of the World Health Survey (2003) were used. Overall, 43 health status indicators were grouped into health dimensions (physical, mental and functional health, chronic diseases, health behaviours) and the SRH item was regressed on these indicators by using sex-stratified multivariable linear regressions, adjusted with demographic and socioeconomic variables. RESULTS: Respondents (participation rate 95.6%; mean age 38.9 years) rated their health as very good (21.8%), good (36.4%), moderate (26.6%), bad (13.2%) or very bad (2.0%). Among men, the adjusted explained SRH variance by health dimensions ranged between 18% and 41% (physical 33%, mental 32%, functional health 41%, chronic diseases 23%, health behaviours 18%). In multivariable models, the overall explained variance increased to 45%. The 43 health status indicators were associated with SRH and their effect sizes were in the expected direction. Among women, results were similar (overall explained variance 48%). CONCLUSION: The SRH item has satisfactory construct validity and may be used to monitor health status in demographic and population health surveys of India.