Pakistan is having a census after 19 years. The country hopes to have an accurate estimate of not only its growing population but also an idea about the status of ethnic and religious minorities, population strength of whom have been dwindling over time due to persecution and limited opportunities.
The exercise was in news in India a couple of weeks back because Sikhs were not being counted separately in the census. They were being clubbed in “Others” in the column where one was expected to choose one’s religion. Hindus, Christians, and Ahmadis were among the options but there was no option for Sikhs, Parsis or Baha’i.
There was a hue and cry even in Pakistan with cricketer turned politician Imran Khan raising this issue, which incidentally was also reported in India. The Sikh community of Pakistan took the issue to courts. Subsequently, Peshawar High Court asked the authorities to count Sikhs separately, though half of the first phase of the census was already over by then. The second block of the first phase started today and it is not clear if Sikhs are being counted separately.
While inattention to Sikhs made news in India, and rightly so, another controversy related to one’s religion in Pakistani census has largely gone unnoticed in India. And this time it is about Hindus.
Pakistan has virtually declared that ‘Scheduled Castes’ (also known as ‘Dalits’ in popular socio-political discourse) are not Hindus. In the column where one needs to indicate one’s religion, “Scheduled Castes” is one of the options apart from Hinduism. So, one has to either indicate himself as Hindu or a Dalit. He can’t be both.
It should be noted that a majority of Hindus left in Pakistan are believed to be Dalits, who could not migrate either due to lack of financial resources or because some of them believed in the Dalit-Muslim unity theory. They face discrimination and crimes like abductions and forced conversions from Muslim extremists quite often. Further, they hardly enjoy any clout in the political landscape.
Which is why there has been muted opposition to this move by the government of Pakistan to divide Hindus in the census. Among those voicing concerns has been the Pakistan Hindu Council, whose patron-in-chief Dr. Ramesh Kumar Vankwani, who also happens to be a member of the National Assembly of Paksitan, has opposed the move.
“In the current census, Hindus have been divided into Hindus and the Scheduled Castes. The Pakistan Hindu Council believes that this is a deliberate attempt to divide the population strength of the country’s largest religious minority,” Dr. Vankwani wrote in an article published today.
However, such concerns have neither found a serious audience in Pakistan nor in India. In Pakistan, Hindus are in hopeless situation, while in India, those who control the narrative would rather welcome this move and want it replicated in India!
The so-called left-liberal ‘secular’ intelligentsia in India has often argued that Dalits are not part of the mainstream Hindu society. They propagate such arguments based on the discredited Aryan Invasion Theory and other quasi-fictional beliefs that they flaunt as “alternative history”. This step by the Pakistani government would rather embolden them than bother them.
But for the rest of us, it should mean warning bells, for Pakistan has set the ball rolling, which is in line with their declared policy of exploiting fault-lines in the Indian society. This step of counting Dalits separately from Hindus could be aimed at seeding similar demands in India rather than collecting data for domestic purposes. Remember that last year, the Pakistani senate had adopted a resolution that talked about exploiting fault-lines in the Indian society, especially around the Dalits.
Don’t be surprised if similar demands are raised in India for the next census, which is slated to take place in 2021. And if the Congress/UPA government comes back in 2019, it won’t be surprising if India follows the footsteps of Pakistan in declaring Dalit identity distinct from Hinduism.
This sinister agenda by Pakistan has to be fought on the domestic front mainly, and the social organisations have to brace up for this assault. Suitable and favourable conditions have to be created where discredited or fictional theories are not easily believed by the marginalised sections.
Apart from attempting to declare Dalits as non-Hindus, there will be attempts to talk about the Muslim-Dalit unity too. It will be timely to recall the case of Jogendra Nath Mandal, Pakistan’s first Law Minister, who was a Dalit, and who resigned from the government of Pakistan and migrated to India after he realised that the talk of Muslim-Dalit unity was a hogwash and Hindu/Dalit interests were not safe in an Islamist nation-state.
Perhaps this attempt to divide Hindus is a step towards whitewashing the Jogendra Nath Mandal episode in Pakistan’s history, so that it can be argued that Dalits couldn’t get their due because they were not recognised separately. This narrative will not only find traction within Pakistan for obvious reasons, but it could be sold in India too.
Pakistan’s attempt to divide the Hindu community and re-write history could have been ignored as their internal matter if it were not sinister. One may argue that what else to expect from a country that divided Muslims too and declared Ahmadis as non-Muslims. But this is not just their internal matter. Stakes are high.
Pakistan has introduced a new entry into their census form column, but it is basically a signal to the fifth column in India.