Pakistan: Faced With a Digital Census, Christians Are Suspicious

February 02, 2022
Bishop Samson Shukardin

The Pakistani government has just asked Catholic parishes to share the data contained in their registers in order to carry out the first digital census in the country's history. This requirement leaves more than one Christian skeptical, and which is far from unanimous within the Church.

The federal government of Pakistan has been working hard for several years to convince Catholic parishes to record their statistics in the first digital census database in the country's history.

In the state of Punjab alone (eastern Pakistan) more than a hundred mediators have been sent to 13 of the 36 districts – where the Christian minority is most represented – in order to support the government representatives responsible for census the population.

Fr. Francis Gulzar, vicar general of the Archdiocese of Lahore - the most important ecclesiastical structure in the country – is encouraging the faithful to work closely with the census takers: “we want to help the officers in charge of the census, because they are experiencing difficulties with the spelling of Christian names; the catechists have written the names on lists, they now have to hand them over to the census takers,” the priest told Ucanews.

And he added: “we urge all Catholics to participate in this census which will allow you to benefit from your political rights, and other advantages, in particular quotas.”

This is indeed one of the arguments raised by the Pakistani government, and relayed by part of the local episcopate, in order to encourage Christians to register: depending on the results, the State undertakes to implement specific development programs for religious minorities.

With 207.68 million inhabitants, 97% of whom are Muslims, Pakistan is the second most populous Muslim country, where, according to the last census in 2017, Christians make up only 1.27% of the population.

But for some Catholics, this is a time of mistrust: the census figures might be misrepresented in high places in order to minimize the influence of the Christian minority, not to mention the digitization of parish registers which will provide the government with a massive amount of private information, with no one knowing how it might be used in the future.

“The results of the census are not exact, and the real figures are hidden,” thunders for his part Msgr. Samson Shukardin. The Bishop of Hyderabad is fundamentally opposed to the operation, which, however, is being encouraged by part of the clergy.

“It is not right for the government to require us to share all this information: they must give us confidence by securing the data using a dedicated protocol. All this leaves many questions unanswered,” warns the prelate.

Albert David, a Christian member of the National Commission for Minorities, accused the remarks of being “irresponsible,” on January 8, 2022.

But many in the Church are worried about this new census, as the aggressive attitude of Muslims towards religious minorities, especially Christians, continues to increase throughout the country.