Amid decreasing population of religious minorities in the country, the community leaders have demanded separate columns for Buddhists, Kalash, Jews, Baha’i, etc. instead of counting them as “others”.
“This category reflects that the concerned groups are not important. We demand respect as well. Census commission should do more to count us as well,” said Bahai Dr. Ruhhiya.
Similar concerns were expressed in Feb. 25 consultation meeting organized by the Centre for Social Justice (CSJ) regarding effective participation of minorities in National Population Census 2022. The speakers expressed their concerns over the astonishing trends of population growth of religious minorities in Pakistan in Census conducted in 2017.
Earlier this week, Federal Minister for Planning Asad Umar said that the first-ever digitized population census would be concluded throughout Pakistan in a 30-day period in Aug. 2022. According to the Census Commissioner Punjab, Dr. Amjad Javaid Sandhu, the results of 7th census will be completed by Dec. 22.
Christians make up 1.27 percent of Pakistan’s population of 207.68 million, according to 2017 census data, released in May 2021. They were 1.59 percent of the total population as per the 1998 census.
This was in keeping with the overall trend of a decrease in Pakistan’s religious minority populations by 0.18 percent between 1998 and 2017.
Overall, non-Muslims make up less than 4 percent of the country, a drastic decline from 40 percent during the birth of Pakistan in 1947. Hindus at 1.73 percent of the population remain the biggest minority group.
According to Prof. Dr. Qais Aslam, Qais Aslam, a professor of economics, observed that the overall population growth was 56.92% from 1998 to 2017, whereas the decrease in population of religious minorities in 19 years.
“The population of Christians was shown to have grown by 25.71% (0.54 million), while Hindu population grew by 70.62% (1.49 million), and the population of people categorized as “Scheduled Castes” increased exponentially by 157.58% (0.52 million) between 1998 and 2017,” he said.
“In contrast, the population of Ahmadis drastically declined by 35.71% (0.09 million), and people falling into the category of “other religions” declined by 60% (0.06 million). These results are surprising for religious minorities as well as they pose questions on the credibility of the count.”
Other speakers urged the Pakistan Bureau of Statistics to take timely and strong measures to ensure the transparency and credibility of the upcoming census and ensure that all religious minorities including are counted and presented separately rather than accumulatively.
“A fresh population census will be only successful if it helps address the reservations of the stakeholders. It requires the government to learn from the previous census exercise in order to avoid repeating the mistakes in the future,” said the executive director of Centre for Social Justice, Peter Jacob.
He recommended that there should be adequate level of transparency in the gathering, compilation of data, and presentation of census results to avoid misunderstandings and build confidence, which is only possible if key stakeholders including civil society actors, media are taken on board and inconsistencies are removed well in time.
He demanded that government must make a realistic assessment of the implementation plan for the census, and postpone data collection till April 2023 in order to ensure the proper preparation.
Dr. Majid Abel urged the religious and educational institutions and civil society organizations to work together for public awareness and mobilization around Census 2022. He underscored the importance of census and encouraged the citizens to take part in the enumeration and observation of the census activity.