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April 10, 2017

Scheduled castes have a separate box for them, but only if anybody knew

Karachi

April 10, 2017

With the communities unaware about this category in census forms, enumerators registering members of scheduled castes as Hindus instead of ticking the specific box provided for them

Members of the Pakistan’s scheduled castes, an official term for historically disadvantaged Hindus, fear that the ongoing census will not reflect their actual numbers as the ill-trained enumerators have been marking them as Hindus instead of ticking the specific box in the form for them.

Ahmed Ali*, an enumerator working in Karachi’s Narayanpura, was unaware about the difference between the boxes of ‘Hindu’ and ‘Scheduled Caste’ in the section of ‘Religion’.

“I asked the residents about their religion and they replied Hindu so I simply ticked them as Hindus,” Ali told The News.

He added that he had not been informed about the separate category of schedule castes. 

Narayanpura is a neighbourhood in Ranchore Line area where non-Muslim communities - Hindus, Sikh and Christians - live together.

Parakash P Channal, head of the Pakistan Harijan Foundation, a Karachi-based organisation representing scheduled castes, said the ratio of scheduled castes in minorities would further decline as many of them had been placed in the Hindu category even though the religion column on the form had a separate category for schedule castes. 

“We tried to raise awareness in our community in Narayanpura about the the specific box in the religion section,” Channal told The News. “But most members of the scheduled castes communities living in Karachi and Hyderabad, where the census process is under way in its first phase, are unaware about its importance. It’s mainly because illiteracy,” he added.

Activists advocating for the rights of the schedule castes argue that in Pakistan, members of these communities fall victim to caste-based discrimination, including the practice of “untouchability”.

For scheduled castes, there is double discrimination as they are not only discriminated against by the rest of the society but by upper-caste Hindus too.

Ramesh Jaipal, a leader of the Schedule Caste Rights Movement, said the law ministry in November 1957 had issued a presidential ordinance to declare 41 non-Muslim castes as scheduled castes. 

“The scheduled caste communities have understood the importance of the census and their leaders have prepared for it,” Jaipal told The News.

Jaipal said the purpose of the legislation was that scheduled caste communities would be given a special status by reserving a quota for them in funds and jobs and in the process mainstreaming them. 

However, he added that census enumerators were not properly informed about the difference between the Hindu and schedule castes categories and that was why their numbers might appear less in the census than what they actually were.

According to the 1998 census, upper-caste Hindus are just over 2.1 million and scheduled caste communities are around 0.2 million

 However, these figures are contested by the representatives of the scheduled caste leaders as they believe that discrimination and the State’s denial of their problems begins with numbers. They estimate that the population of scheduled caste communities is more than two million.

Recently, in Hindu-majority districts including Umerkot and Tharparkar where the census will start from April 25, scheduled caste organizations including the Dalit Sujag Tehreek and the Bheel Intellectual Forum have started campaigns to make the community aware about the importance of census and their socio-economic status and rights.

On April 9, the BIF organised a massive rally titled ‘Yes, I am schedule caste’ in Umerkot, stressing upon the communities to be aware of the fact that
they could register under the box of scheduled castes in the section of religion in the census form.

Jaipal said mainly upper-caste Hindus were elected and became ministers on the behalf of scheduled castes and did not resolve their issues. 

But taking a different line altogether, some Hindu rights groups including the Pakistan Hindu Council expressed their concerns over the division of Hindus in the census form.

“This is a deliberate attempt to divide the population strength of the country’s largest religious minority,” said Ramesh Kumar Vankwani, the PHC chief and a member of the national assembly. 

 

*Name changed to protect privacy