Pakistan has an image problem. There is much disconnect between what the government says it will do and what it actually does.
Months after the country has seen the passing of progressive bills that protect (some of) Pakistan’s minorities — it is more than disheartening to see that the national census has rendered many of them invisible, as if they are irrelevant.
The Supreme Court should have acted earlier. For it forgot to take the government by the hand and show it how to conduct an inclusive census that might be worth more than the paper upon which it is written.
That Islamabad provides a separate category for the transgender community is a testament to the hard work of those groups in Pakistan that have tirelessly lobbied for the recognition of LGBTQ rights. Yet this win begins to smack of mere tokenism in light of the government’s resounding failure to provide separate documentation for Sikhs and the non-able bodied. The latter was included only upon intervention by the apex court. The government has sent its message loud and clear: it has no interest in understanding the intersectional burdens of oppression.
This needs to change. And it needs to do so at the political grassroots level. For too long, too many parties have allowed privileged men to run the show. This extends even to those who look in the mirror and proclaim themselves the most progressive of all. There is no commitment to discussing single-point agendas from multiple perspectives, starting with that of gender and religion. It is far easier to lump everything that may require a more nuanced approach under the ludicrously reductive banner: women and minorities. As if by way of not belonging outright to the majority — these two represent a single homogenous entity.
When it comes to the census’ treatment of Hindus and Christians — these groups face one of two options, identifying themselves as “marginalised” or as “other”. Sikhs are not alone in being left out of this numbers game. The same fate has been dealt to the Parsee and Baha’i communities.
Even more worrying reports have emerged where census teams have been asking people to declare their sect. While it good to have reliable data, the sectarian issue is explosive given the acts of violence that have been perpetrated in the name of sectarian hatreds. The government should reconsider, and take appropriate action.
We urge the Supreme Court of Pakistan to take notice of glaring omissions in the census. And we also urge the prime minister to remember one thing. The call for us to begin thinking as Pakistanis begins with you. *