Census and Cynics

Greater Kashmir

Looking at Kashmir through the Irish prism

At least four seminars were held in the last few days in Srinagar on the census issue. There seem to be two predominant arguments: one is categorical in that the census figures on J&K are fudged. Another argument denies this completely. Both the arguments, however, fail to convince completely. Many questions remain unanswered. There is a mix of emotion as well as logic in this debate. Emotion – from whatever side – may not be able to hold to logic. So it is better to focus on the latter.
The on-going census exercise in J&K, for the first time perhaps, is evoking a good degree of public curiosity and debate. Suddenly, those who until yesterday saw participation in census as “an act of treason” are exhorting people to participate. After a long time, they are seeing political logic in participating in this exercise.
Most of the questions raised at the Srinagar seminars remain unanswered. Should we participate in the census? If yes, what is the mechanism to ensure the exercise is credible? If not, what is the alternative? Isn’t it too late to wake up to this pressing issue?
In J&K there are today widespread apprehensions about the decrease in the state’s Muslim population throughout the past 60 years. There are apprehensions about the demographic change that 8 per cent Scheduled Caste reservation could bring about. There are apprehensions also about the non-state subjects who reside in J&K and will be enumerated as J&K’s citizens. There is anxiety that the state is being treated like any other state, with its special status being constantly undermined. All this, unarguably, has profound political and economic repercussions.
In political terms, Northern Ireland is a classical case study for J&K’s census issue. The popular Good Friday Agreement (GFA), which ended the war between the UK and Northern Ireland’s nationalist forces, provides for right to self determination as well. The parties have an understanding that whenever a simple majority of people living in the Northern Ireland choose to become a part of the Irish Republic and secede from the UK they would be free to do so.
In the above lines, the point ‘simple majority’ needs to be underscored. As per the 2001 census in the UK, Catholic Irish nationalists comprise 43.8 per cent of the 1.7 million people living in Northern Ireland. The British loyalist Protestant community was in a thin majority – 53.1 per cent of the total population.
This plain arithmetic makes it clear that the Irish nationalists who have been fighting to join the Irish Republic and secede from the UK do not have a simple majority. Hence, they are constrained to demand a plebiscite for now.
Interestingly, as per the 1991 census, the Protestants were 58 per cent while as the Catholics were 42 per cent. This means that there has been a steady growth of Catholic proportion of the total population, attributed to Protestants’ increasing migration to the British mainland and higher birth rate among the Catholics.
The 2011 Census in the UK could be path breaking. If the Catholic nationalists attain a majority, they could demand a plebiscite. Northern Ireland’s political future may in fact change, provided there is no change of heart in the either party.
In 2006, when we as a Kashmiri group studying Northern Ireland peace process, met representatives of the Sinn Fein Party at the Belfast Assembly, we were told that the political future of Northern Ireland hinged on a single factor: “demographic expectation.”
Broadly, there are four viewpoints on the census issue and the population projection in J&K state. One viewpoint – on the basis of mathematical logic – argues that J&K’s population ought to be higher than it is projected. Another viewpoint vehemently denies this – saying that the population growth distortion in the state happened due to the state’s division in 1947. This viewpoint also talks of the flight of Kashmiri refugees post 1947, who now do not figure in any census in the state’s two divided parts.
The third viewpoint cites demographic logic and personal experiences to argue that census figures on J&K are fudged. The fourth viewpoint doesn’t see any conspiracy theory in the matter. It sees any distortion only as a consequence of irresponsible and lazy ground level enumerators, who underreport the real demographics.
The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) Jammu unit has its own take on the issue. It alleged that pro-azadi groups in the state were trying to “mislead census enumerators with wrong details.” It said the growth of J&K’s population by 31 percent in 2001 census, in comparison to all-India growth of 21 percent defied logic.
For those who see a “conspiracy theory” to the distortion in census figures on J&K establishing the same remains a daunting task. There was a suggestion at the J&K High Court Bar Association (HCBA)-organized seminar that pro-azadi groups should undertake a parallel census to establish the truth. The idea is patently impossible. Given the enormity of the human, material, logistical and analytical tools required, it is improbable that such a parallel exercise will be credible.
However, the suggestion that a categorical participation without a safety valve amounts to a risky political adventure is logical as well. But what are the options?
The viewpoints at the round table discussion organized by Kashmir Centre for Social and Development Studies (KCSDS), reflected the same dilemma. Some speakers there urged for inclusion of ‘state subject’ clause in the census questionnaire, rather than the ‘permanent resident’ clause to establish the real demography of the state. But the question is: isn’t it too late for that?
There was also a feeling that there should be a true reflection of the population growth in J&K based on the historic population growth trends, and, as prevalent in the rest of the sub-continent.
The question of deploying international observers, like members of the European Union, is a tricky one. It is improbable that New Delhi will agree to this. Even if it agrees to this, what harm or good would it do if such monitors observe the ground level data collection and compilation? It could, at best, identify procedural and process-based lacunae, the blame of which will fall at the state government’s own doorsteps, not New Delhi’s.
International monitoring for the final analysis, validation and projection process of census figures does make some sense. But the point is: how to make that happen?
Representation of Kashmiri Muslims in the Quality Assurance Committee of the Census for the data analysis for J&K state is another critical issue. What if the government nominates some retired civil servant to that? What difference would that make to the process?
There is a clear need for an in-depth analysis of the quality assurance and revalidation process in the census data that the Task Force on Quality Assurance does. But what are the instruments?
Right to Information law could be very handy in seeking information to allay the suspicions. Similarly, the judicial path could equally be fruitful. In all cases, there is a need for some sound homework. And making census an integral part of the political agenda for Jammu & Kashmir. Let us don’t forget Northern Ireland.

Feedback at arjimand@greaterkashmir.com