LAHORE, Pakistan: The human rights groups have voiced their concerns regarding the government’s plan to conduct the digital population census 2022 in haste, and have urged the Pakistan Bureau of Statistics (PBS) to revise the census questionnaire, ensure an accurate count of everyone, and involve civil society in the census monitoring to avoid controversies, build trust, and bring credibility and transparency.
They have made their concerns known regarding the Task Force for Minorities, and National Commission for Minorities, and they have demanded their establishment in the light of the landmark Jillani Judgment, to deliver substantial progress.
A human rights activist Ashiknaz Khokhar noted that Prime Minister Shahbaz Sharif has recently approved the constitution of a Task Force on Minorities to monitor and oversee the implementation of minorities’ rights, however, the task force is assigned to implement functions, which are mandated to be taken up by the National Commission for Minorities constituted in May 2020.
Ashiknaz Khokhar observed that duty-bearers lack political will to introduce inclusive policy reforms, so they set up the public bodies such as; Commission or Task Force for Minorities which are destined to be ineffective without the legal cover, financial, and administrative powers, and a clear mandate in accordance with the directives of the Supreme Court, and are likely to end up failing in addressing issues faced by minorities, like the other efforts as tokenism made by successive governments in the past.
The Chairperson at Voice for Justice Joseph Jansen said that neither the commission nor the task force is constituted in conformity with the directives (SMC No. 1 of 2014) under landmark judgment issued by then Chief Justice Tassaduq Hussain Jillani on June 19, 2014.
Joseph Jansen observed that overlapping and duplication of institutions will not resolve the human rights issues that minorities face, therefore government must make sincere efforts to comply with the court directives regarding safeguarding minorities’ rights, and constitute National Council (Commission) for Minorities Rights through an act of parliament, and setting up a task force with a mandate to develop a strategy for promoting religious tolerance.
Ilyas Samuel said that apart from engaging with the government machinery regarding the conduct of the digital census, the Pakistan Bureau of Statistics (PBS) needs to engage civil society organizations and media in the census monitoring to bring transparency to the process involving the use of tools, techniques, methodology for enumeration and actions for the execution of upcoming census.
Asif Bastian lamented that the Pakistan Bureau of Statistics (PBS) is unable to display the exact population of citizens belonging to minor minority communities, as it neither collects nor presents distinctively the population of several categories of minority communities. The minor religious minorities are not calculated as separate entities in the population census but they are counted and presented as “Others”, which is tantamount to negating their citizenship as Pakistani, and a failure to recognize and acknowledge religious diversity existing in the country.
In contrast, the Federal Ministry of Education has introduced a subject of religious education for teaching students from seven minority communities their religions in schools including; Christianity, Hinduism, Sikhism, Buddhism, Zoroastrianism, Baha’i, and Kalash, which is pursuant to Article 260 (3)(b) of the Constitution of Pakistan that acknowledges Christian, Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Parsi, Ahmadi, Baha’i, and Scheduled Castes, as non-Muslim citizens of the Country.