06/08/2022, 12.13
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Islamabad: Religious minorities demand more space in the census

by Shafique Khokhar

A document presented to highlight the inconsistencies between Pakistan's population censuses between 1981, 1998 and 2017. Religious minorities are not faithfully represented. Need to broaden self-definition categories.

Islamabad (AsiaNews) - Pakistan's civil society is calling for a review of the methods used by the government to conduct censuses. During a conference organised yesterday by the Centre for Social Justice, speakers urged the Bureau of Statistics to rethink the questions in the questionnaires and count nomadic populations and other minorities (Baha'i, Kalash, Jews, Buddhists) separately, instead of grouping them all under the heading "others": in this way it would be possible to account for the country's ethnic and religious diversity and plan targeted policies.

During the event, a document entitled 'Demographic Confusion of Minorities' was presented, which examines data from the 1981, 1998 and 2017 censuses: the demographic picture appears inconsistent and illogical, giving rise to doubts about the credibility of the statistics compiled by the government. For example, the percentage of people belonging to religious minorities, 3.32% of the total population in 1981, rose to 3.73% in 1998 and then fell to 3.52% in 2017. In absolute numbers, this amounts to 7.32 million people, including Christians (2.64 million), Hindus (3.6 million), Ahmadis (0.19 million), people of the Scheduled Castes (0.85 million) and people of 'other' religions (0.04 million). 

Part of the inconsistencies can be explained by looking at the categories used by the National Database and Registration Authority (Nadra): while citizens can choose to identify themselves in one of the 18 available categories, census data limits the choice to six or at most nine categories, excluding some minorities.

Peter Jacob, executive director of the Centre for Social Justice, emphasised the distrust created after the 2017 census: 'Civil society needs to be involved to avoid the same mistakes in the 2022 census. More transparency regarding data collection and processing of results, other conference participants pointed out, would certainly help.

According to Albert David, member of the National Commission for Minorities, the Bureau of Statistics and Nadra must use the same vocabulary. "There is concern among Christians that their numbers have been underestimated," he added, "which also has an impact on their political, social and economic rights. Census data, for example, determine the allocation of resources, representation in legislative assemblies and the definition of constituencies.

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