Religious minority communities have mobilized efforts for a correct count since the government announced the first-ever digitized population census throughout Pakistan within a 30-day period in August 2022.
According to the 2017 census data, the minorities were 7.3 million in Pakistan, which include Christians (2.6m), Hindus (3.6m), scheduled castes (0.85m), and others (0.23m). However, the overall population of minorities had declined by 0.21% in 19 years (between 1998 and 2017).
The census results showed astonishing trends.
While the Christian population showed to have grown by 25.71%, the Hindu population grew by 70.62%, and the population of scheduled castes increased exponentially by 157.58% between 1998 and 2017. In contrast, the Ahmadi population decreased by 35.71%, and people falling into the category of “other religions” drastically declined by 60%.
Several Christian parties as well as Christian groups had been demanding a delay in the census to ensure the better representation of minority faith followers.
In a joint statement issued on May 7, Wajahat Masood and Peter Jacob, chairperson and executive director of the Center for Social Justice (CSJ), respectively, urged for proper preparations and participatory accountability to address this mistrust.
“CSJ is of the opinion that the preparations at the moment are not sufficient and adequate therefore a proper time for preparation should be allowed so that credible data is generated and public trust is cultivated on the process as well as the outcome of the national population census,” the statement said.
“In order to build trust, the government should proactively engage with civil society, international observers and media and transparency should be shown with regards to technical and procedural aspects of this important activity,” it added.
CSJ also urged the chief statistician of the Pakistan Bureau of Statistics to update the media and civil society on a regular basis, and shun the culture of secrecy, with regards to preparedness, use of digital devices, and status of training of enumerators.
They further stated, “Since the last two censuses have shown a considerable loss of religious diversity in Pakistan (0.21% in 19 years), the complaints of religious minorities should be addressed so that accurate and credible and dependable data comes out at the end.”
Church authorities have also called for authentic data collection in the upcoming census.
Church of Pakistan Moderator Bishop Dr Azad Marshall said that the figures pertaining to the Christian population had been grossly underreported in the 2017 census.
“We urge the government to ensure that maximum efforts are made to ensure comprehensive and accurate enumeration of the Christian population. The church will play its due role in this regard,” he said.
Bishop Marshall said that several factors might have contributed to the inaccuracy of the data in the 2017 census, including ignoring Christians living in small pockets across the country and incomplete filling of the census forms.
“There’s also a dire need to raise awareness in our community about the importance of obtaining national identity cards and registering the birth of their children,” he said.
Akmal Bhatti, chairman of Minorities Alliance Pakistan (MAP), suggested penalties and heavy fines for enumerators and data collection staff that deliberately skip enumerating religious minorities.
“We reject the results of the opaque and vague census. Strict instructions should be issued to the special staff to register the urban and rural population. The data should be protected and kept open for public inspection or analysis for monitoring,” he told Kross Konnection.
“Data collection staff for minority areas should be trained and appointed wherever possible. The state should also incorporate suggestions from leaders and stakeholders working for the rights of minorities,” he added.
Dr Jaipal Chhabria, a Hindu member of the National Commission of Minorities, urged minority groups to prepare their respective communities for the upcoming census.
“Instead of targeting the census commission, they should hold a parallel census in the Christian and Hindu majority areas with at least 200 households. They should prove the discrepancies in the results of the 2017 census,” he said.