Pakistan minorities demand to know census results

The country's first census in almost two decades could give true indication of size of non-Muslim communities
Pakistan minorities demand to know census results

About 50 protestors, including Sikhs and Christians, recently staged a demonstration at the Lahore press club demanding the release of census material relating to minorities. ( photo) 

Leaders of religious minorities recently gathered in Lahore, Punjab, to protest the Pakistan government's delay in releasing national census results on their groups.

About 50 protestors, including Sikhs and Christians, staged a demonstration at the local press club. They carried a large banner which read "the 2017 census report is incomplete without statistics on minorities. The social, economic and political progress of minorities is impossible without their data."

One protester shouted "give us our rights ... we reject this tyrannical attitude." The protest was organized by several Christian NGOs, including the Pakistan Minorities' Unity Council (PMUC).

This August, the Pakistan Bureau of Statistics presented a provisional summary of the sixth population and housing census, which put the country’s current population at 207.7 million against the 132 million in the last census in 1998.

The census put the female population at 101,314,780 and the transgender population at 10,418. To date, the results on religious minorities have not been disclosed.

Federal Minister for Statistics Kamran Michael, a Christian who was expected to play a role in the leadership of the government, has come under fire for the non-disclosure.

"We were satisfied with the appointment of Michael in the reshuffled cabinet following the dismissal of the former prime minister," PMUC chairman Zahid Nazir Bhatti told ucanews. 

"But alas this was another dream. He is following his party's policies and does not care about his own community."

The census, conducted after a gap of 19 years, had been a chief concern for the Pakistan Catholic Bishops Conference (PCBC) which had urged priests, catechists and teachers to educated and mobilized Christians to get their names registered.

"The PCBC is keen to know the Christian population and their ratio in Pakistan, our country, in order to provide them spiritual and social services," they said in a statement last year.

Caritas Pakistan and Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace held awareness seminars about correctly filling in the census forms.

The national assembly used to have 145 seats which included 10 seats for minority members. After changes, the minorities' representation remains the same at 10 seats, although the national assembly now has 342 seats. The seats for minority members in provincial assemblies remain untouched, with eight lawmakers in Punjab, nine in Sindh and three each in Balochistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. 

According to the 1998 census, the Hindu population was 2,443,614, making them the largest minority in Pakistan. However some media reports put the number of Christians as high as four million.

"For the past 70 years, minorities have been demanding a combined distribution of country resources," said Khalid Shehzad, a Christian rights activist. "Today they are downtrodden due to lack of access to opportunities. Even the five percent job quota for minorities is usually neglected." 

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