By Zulfiqar Halepoto
UNDER the 2011 census, the exercise of listing houses has begun in Sindh and is set to continue until April 19. This is to be followed by a population census in September-October. The census is an administrative exercise undertaken to create a proper record of the population and the number of houses, essentially based on individual enumeration.
Its basic purpose is to be able to prioritise socio-economic development in a given area. In a country such as Pakistan, however, this administrative process has added political significance because of the complexities created by the country’s multilingual and cultural composition, and ethnic as well as nationalistic realities.
The census, the sixth in Pakistan, is being conducted at a time when 49 other countries are also carrying out the exercise, including India. The year 2011 has been called the ‘global census year’. The last census in Pakistan was conducted in 1998.
There was no controversy in India when the provisional census results were announced. With 199.5 million residents, UP emerged as the most populous state in the country followed by Maharashtra with 112 million people and Bihar and West Bengal with 110 million each. There was no issue because of the presence of strong constitutional guarantees and institutional protection of the political and cultural rights of people hailing from all groups.
In Pakistan, however, as soon as it was announced that a census was to be conducted, there was a wave of comment, particularly in Sindh. The Sindhi media, nationalist forces and other stakeholders started questioning the transparency and eligibility of the process. Such mobilisation is based on the fear that Sindhi people may be converted into a minority on their own soil through tampering with the head count and manipulating data.
A census-monitoring alliance, the Adum Shumari Monitoring Committee, has thus been established in Sindh by nine nationalist parties, civil society organisations, writers and media people. The committee has developed links with the PPP. Yet in its policy paper the alliance has criticised the party, saying that the PPP has tacitly permitted its coalition partners in the Sindh government to control the census machinery, particularly in Karachi, thereby enabling them to influence census-related operations and jeopardise the transparency of the process.
The reasons behind the allegation of lack of transparency are obvious. As far as Sindh is concerned, even routine administrative work is perceived as being manipulated so that it works against the interests of the Sindhi people. As a result, the latter do not trust administrative institutions. The violation of the 1991 water apportionment accord and the confusion created by the withholding of some clauses of the seventh National Finance Commission award signed by President Zardari are examples which some quarters cite to support their claim of the establishment’s ill intent.
As reported by this newspaper recently, the federal secretary of the Statistics Division and his team of experts made a presentation about the salient features and the procedures for conducting the census. Yet he failed to satisfy the lawmakers of Sindh. Thanks to the live transmission of the briefing in the Sindh Assembly, people could see that legislators and parliamentary party leaders were quite sceptical about the process of house-listing and that they had serious reservations about the technical shortfalls and political repercussions of the census process.
The fundamental reservations concerned the results of the 1998 census, in which the population of Sindh was perceived as having been shown as less than the actual number, depriving the province of its due share in the NFC award and other fiscal grants and aid. Reservations were also apparent about the strength and the capacity of the staff as well as the time-frame.
The experts had no answers when questioned how their staff would reach the Thar Desert, the riverine forest and the Kaachho, Kohistan and Katcho areas. How would houses be listed and heads counted in terms of the people displaced by the floods, who have no homes left and are living in makeshift huts scattered all around upper Sindh?
The federal government’s technocrats gave assurances that special forms had been designed for the people internally displaced, either by the floods or for other reasons, to ensure their enumeration in house-listing and the subsequent population census. They added that the forms had been printed in Sindhi and Urdu, the two officially recognised languages.
Yet the lawmakers were not satisfied. All the questions posed and observations made by the legislators were related to ethnic sentiments.
The federal and Sindh governments should review the concerns of the majority of the province’s population. They should take serious note of the demand that millions of economic refugees from the country’s north and its trouble spots be registered as part of Sindh’s population separately, in a non-resident category. This is standard practice in many developed countries.
People, who have migrated due to economic reasons, should not be allowed to alter the Sindhi people’s status as the majority.
Meanwhile, illegal immigrants should be counted as ‘aliens’ without citizenship and/or permanent residency rights. In this connection, the National Database Registration Authority must immediately cancel the illegal identity cards issued to over 1.3 million aliens.
Then, there are some allegedly ‘no-go’ areas: certain parts of Karachi and portions of interior Sindh that were gifted as fiefdoms to tribal chiefs and feudal lords by the Musharraf government, and later on legitimised by President Zardari under the ‘reconciliation’ formula. For these areas, special law and order arrangements must be made to ensure that the census-taking staff has free access and can properly enumerate all the households. The media and civil society must also be ensured access for monitoring.
Three years of democratic rule in the province have failed to reduce ethnic rivalry and mistrust among Sindhis and other ethnic groups. On the contrary, the PPP leadership exploited the ethnicity card in order to maintain its base of power. The government has failed to heal the wounds inflicted by the rural-urban divide created by the last military rule in Pakistan.
Unfortunately, the current state of affairs does not encourage optimism about progress in the foreseeable future in terms of social cohesion between various groups in Sindh. This tendency may prove harmful for social integrity and collectiveness.
There is a need to recognise the constitutional rights of all the people and the rights of all communities, whether in a majority or minority.
The writer is associated with the Sindh Democratic Forum.
Source: The Dawn, Pakistan