Pakistan’s latest census form is exclusionary, say activists

Pakistani language experts and activists have raised alarm over the exclusion of several ethnonational and language options from the Islamic Republic’s latest census that is due to roll out on March 1st.

Zubair Torwali, a linguist and educator, claims that the nation’s “exclusionary tactics” are due to its political elite “not liking diversity”. He adds that “they (the elite) are unaware of Pakistan’s linguistic and cultural diversity.”

Torwali says that the census form does not include around 60 languages, including Gujari, Gawri or Khowar, spoken by over 300,000 people. He has also said that it excludes ethnic identities such as Afgan and national identities such as Azad Jammu and Kashmiri.

Azad Jammu and Kashmir

Azad Jammu and Kashmir is a self-governed nominal state administered by Pakistan wedged between the conflicted Kashmiri zones in India and Pakistan. 

Kashmir Development Foundation, an organisation that supports Kashmiris worldwide, recently launched an online petition to amend the census form to “include an option for the citizens of the State of Jammu and Kashmir to note their hereditary state citizenship status in the census form.”

They say that the exclusion “can be seen as a way to marginalize or suppress the numbers and interests of state citizens. It may also lead to feelings of alienation and resentment among the people of Azad Jammu Kashmir (AJK)”.

Sardar Aftab Khan from the KDF says that Pakistan is portraying a “reductionist, neocolonial attitude” through this exclusion. “Urdu is not the only language Pakistanis speak”, he adds. He says that an accurate census is necessary for the development of AJ&K as an independent state separate from India and Pakistan if it ever chooses.

Digital Census

Pakistan will conduct this census using ‘in-house’ digital technology. The government has trained over 120,000 enumerators, according to official sources, who are to travel country-wide to collect data using tablets and geotag structures which will be monitored in real-time.

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