Thursday June 13, 2024

About the census

By Dr Ramesh Kumar Vankwani
March 31, 2017

Every country needs up-to-date information about its residents for planning, national development and improvement of the quality of life. The sixth national census is being conducted in Pakistan after 19 years. In the developed world, a population census is held at least every 10 years and a household census is conducted every three years on a regular basis.

In the digital age, it is easy to collect authentic data but unfortunately, the history of every past census in Pakistan is laced with various controversies. Each time the census was held, questions were raised regarding its authenticity and procedures by different segments of society. The distribution of national resources between federal and provincial governments through the National Finance Commission (NFC) Award is still being debated.

Before 1971, resources were allocated on the basis of area rather than population. This created resentment in East Pakistan (current Bangladesh) which had a smaller land area but a larger population. After Bangladesh was created, the formula of revenue distribution on the basis of population was adopted. As a result, various ethnic and provincial elements started to use different tactics to seek larger shares.

Non-Muslim citizens believe that their population is shown incorrectly in the census so that they can be kept out of the national mainstream.

Although the constitution of Pakistan made it mandatory for the national census to be held every ten years, many hurdles have prevented this from materialising. The 1991 census which was postponed due to political uncertainty was held in 1998 by the PML-N government under Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. The PPP government, however, failed to fulfil its constitutional responsibility for holding the next census due in 2008.

The population of non-Muslims has decreased from 23 percent in 1947 to 6 percent in 1998. According to the 1951 census, the population of Pakistani Hindus was 12.9 percent which made Pakistan the second largest Hindu populous country in the world. Even today, the latest report of the Election Commission of Pakistan declares that Pakistani Hindus dominate the non-Muslim vote bank by 50 percent. In the current census, Hindus have been divided into Hindus and the Scheduled Castes. The Pakistan Hindu Council believes that this is a deliberate attempt to divide the population strength of the country’s largest religious minority.

All the reservations and grievances regarding the census must be addressed in a democratic way to make the results acceptable to all citizens. All those people who are currently living in Pakistan must be registered. If someone has acquired property or residence in some other province, he/she must have the same rights as the locals of that area. The leadership in Balochistan must also be taken on board in this regard.

The rural and urban division plays a pivotal role in the political history of Sindh. Karachi, now, no longer seems to be a Mohajir-majority. This is because a large number of people from other cities and provinces have settled in the metropolis. Migration patterns that change the proportion of the population are also likely to affect the upcoming electoral politics in Sindh. Similarly, the census results will change the future political scenario for the Seraiki-, Pothwhari- and Hindko-speaking people residing in Punjab, the largest province in the country. As Fata merges with Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, necessary legislation must be introduced. There is also a dire need to prepare a long-term policy based on humanitarian grounds for Afghan and other refugees residing in Pakistan.

The census results may also lead to the reorganisation of the electoral constituencies in the future. At least 15 constituencies for non-Muslims will also be introduced so that they can select their true representatives through the dual vote. In the current parliamentary scenario, access to parliament for non-Muslim citizens is subject to being chosen by different political parties. This practice is a remnant of dictatorial regimes and must be discouraged in the current democratic society. We must understand that the grievances of non-Muslims and smaller provinces can only be addressed if the census results are prepared with a sense of national responsibility.

People must also believe that in the presence of social media, TV channels and an independent judiciary, manoeuvring the ongoing census and its results will not be easy. We should learn from our past mistakes and conduct the ongoing census in a democratic manner. Parties using their ethnic and provincial cards to extract a larger share of the national resources can no longer employ the same tactics. Every citizen must provide accurate information so that sound policies for the fair distribution of resources can be made.


The writer is a member of the National Assembly and patron-in-chief of the
Pakistan Hindu Council.

Twitter: @RVankwani