The last census held in 2017 in Pakistan was a controversial one that incensed several, especially those from marginalized sections, resulting in the government making an announcement that another census would be conducted again in August 2022.
The results of the sixth ‘National Population Census’ conducted in 2017 and officially announced in 2021, became controversial on several counts.
For the religious minorities, census results were as disturbing as they were to other minorities. The official census data showed an overall growth of about 60 per cent from 1998 to 2017, whereas the population growth of religious minorities showed surprisingly asymmetrical trends. The growth of the Christian population was only 25.71 per cent, while Hindu population was shown to be 70 per cent, and the scheduled castes population increased exponentially by 157.58 per cent. The Ahmadi population declined by 64.28 per cent, and those falling in the category of “other religions” declined by 60 per cent.
Meanwhile, the Christian population was shown to have declined significantly by 0.32% in the aggregate figure. In fact, The overall minority population fell from 3.73% in 1998 to 3.53% in 2017 (0.18% decrease in 19 years).
Responding to these concerns, minority rights organization, the Center for Social Justice (CSJ)’s Chairperson Wajahat Masood and Executive Director Peter Jacob, in a communication sent to the government, Wajahat Masood and Peter Jacob, have sent recommendations for holding a credible census, urging the government to postpone having a census till April 2023 to allow proper preparation.
They also said that there should be more transparency and less secrecy in the gathering and compilation of data; an early awareness campaign on registration; use of alternative means of verification; release of comprehensive and segregated provisional census results to avoid misunderstandings caused by delay in announcement of final census results.
In their recommendations sent to the Federal Bureau Statistics, Ministry of Finance, and Ministry of Planning Developing:
1. 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.
2. In order to build confidence among the masses and all sections of society, the culture of secrecy should be omitted in enumeration, data processing, and sharing results at all levels (Union Council, Tehsil, and District).
3. Ensure that vacant posts for population census commission / Bureau at federal and province-level are filled on an urgent basis.
4. Ensure that the persons without verifiable identity documents (e.g. CNIC) are not left out in headcount, and the enumerators are trained to include this category of persons.
5. Launch awareness campaign well in time including the digital self-registration so that the people having access to digital means (mobile, computer, etc.) can effectively avail this facility.
6. Ensure that persons with unclear thumb/fingers impressions or loss of limbs etc. may be able to register using the foot impressions, etc. as alternative means of verification.
7. Engage local civil society organizations/volunteers to assist enumerators in all areas in general and in minority settlements in particular.
8. Ensure that all religious communities such as; Sikhs, Buddhists, Kalash, Jews, Parsi, Baha’i, etc. are counted and presented separately rather than accumulatively as “others” (segregated data, including the social indicators).
9. Ensure that all linguistic, ethnic or racial identities including the nomads or gypsies, and Sheedis (African origin) are counted accurately and represented in the district-level census reports.
10. Give briefing to civil society, media, and citizens on regular basis for confidence building, transparency, and awareness on processes of self-registration using technology, enumeration exercise, data verification, and announcement of census results.
11. Release data relating to religious minorities, trans-genders, and persons with disabilities along with the provisional census result to avoid any misunderstandings caused by delays in the announcement of final census results.
12. Ensure that the civil society is invited to observe the National population census as commonly practiced in the general elections.
13. Ensure that the areas included in the block, charge, and circle are clearly defined and announced before the conduct of the census to avoid the overlapping and under/over-count, and ensure that the population is counted and presented in the census results accordingly.
14. Ensure that houses in blocks are estimated, realistically through physical visits to the areas before the conduct of the census, and a sufficient number of enumerators are engaged for the census so that no household is left out.
15. While making blocks, the population density should be kept in view, and the previous data of population and settlement be used to make new maps.
16. Ensure that complaints relating to the inconsistencies in the conduct of census are timely registered/ acknowledged and effectively addressed to ensure that no one is missed out in the enumeration for any reasons including a limited timeframe.