Lahore (AsiaNews) – Christians and Sikh religious leaders have issued an appeal to the Pakistani government to ensure that the first census in 19 years is accurate and complete.
Some prominent minority leaders spoke to AsiaNews noting some errors in the census’s religious and demographic categories.
In particular, there is no separate entry for Sikhs, Baha’is and Parsees. For this reason, Sikhs leaders are organising demonstrations and protests in several districts.
Although recognised, Christians are referred to by a derogatory term dating back to British rule.
Pakistani authorities began the first phase of the census on 15 March with the second phase set for April and May. The results should be made public in late July.
According to unofficial data, Pakistan is the sixth most populous country in the world, mostly Muslims, with a population that is expected to exceed 200 million people.
Estimates put the number of Christians at around four million, whilst Sikhs are thought to be just over 20,000.
Christian leaders recently urged people to take part in the census process, but also pointed out deficiencies in the model used.
Sikhs complain that in column 6, which refers to religion, a person can only choose between Muslim, Isaai (a despised Urdu term from colonial times used for Christians), Hindu, Qadiani/Ahmadis, scheduled castes, etc.
"This is a very important issue. The Sikh nation has been offended by the exclusion of a separate entry in the 2017 census,” said Guru Nanak Ji Mission general secretary Kalyan Singh. “The same error was made in the 1998 census. We urgently call on the prime minister, the chief justice, and the chief of the Army Staff to recognise our separate identity. For us, this census is incomplete."
The Sikh leader went on to claim the "right to protest peacefully, like all other citizens of Pakistan. Our complaints are against the State. We call on all groups and intellectuals to put pressure. Knowing our exact number and our [territorial] distribution might help get quotas in the federal budget."
Pakistan Minorities Teachers' Association (PMTA) Professor Anjum James Paul, a Catholic, wrote to Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. In his letter, he says "Religious minorities in Pakistan have reservations on the violation of their right to equal citizenship and religious identity". The “word 'Isaai' should be replaced with 'Masihi', and Hindus should be included among the scheduled castes".