The federal government’s decision to re-conduct the national census in 2022 to allay concerns expressed by political parties and ethnic groups is a continuity of Pakistan’s irregular tryst with the activity. The Centre of Social Justice (CSJ) released a white paper that expressed their apprehensions regarding ambiguous count of religious minorities and suggested measures to increase transparency regarding their identification and counting process.
A press release issued by the Centre of Social Justice (CSJ) said that the growth in populations of religious minorities in Pakistan showed disproportionate trends against an overall population increase of 60 per cent. According to official census data, the population of Hindus and scheduled castes increased by 70 per cent and 157.5 per cent while Christians, Ahmadis and citizens identifying as following ‘other religions’ recorded a population decline by 0.32, 64.2 and 60 per cent respectively. Religious minorities constitute 3.53 per cent of Pakistan’s overall population, down from 3.73 per cent in 1998.
According to the National Database and Registration Authority (NADRA), there are 17 unique religious minorities living in Pakistan. Given that Article 260(3) of the Constitution recognizes eight different non-Muslim citizen categories, it is worrying that Pakistan Bureau of Statistics (PBS) remains ill-equipped to fully include all religious identities during the counting process. This suggests not only a lapse in administrative ability but a human rights issue where the state continues to ignore the need to recognize, count and include all its citizens.
Speaking at a press briefing in Islamabad, Peter Jacob, Executive Director of Centre for Social Justice (CSJ), impressed upon the need for authorities to ensure that members of all religious minorities are acknowledged for their religious identities rather than being categorized as members of ‘other religions’.
The white paper further made recommendations for the government to introduce alternate methods of religious identification, broadening of religious categories in the census form, raising awareness regarding early registration, using digital means to reach citizens residing in less-reachable areas, and adopting a proactive approach to count all citizens.