By Yasser Latif Hamdani
According to our official census Non-Muslims make up 3% of the Pakistani population. In Punjab the number of Hindus is reported less than 20,000. Sikhs are fewer than 10,000 – this too according to the official census. Christians are said to be the second largest religious group in Pakistan with approximate 4 to 5 million adherents all over the country, again according to the official census.
These numbers don’t add up. Catholics claim upto 5 million followers in Punjab alone and it by no means the only Christian denomination in the province of Punjab. Then there is a large number of Christians living in Karachi and Sindh and sporadic numbers in Balochistan and NWFP. There are sizeable Sikh populations in pockets of Punjab, especially around Nankana Sahib and Hassan Abdal as well as NWFP. Dawn recently reported the following:
Figures show about a million Hindus are living in the Punjab alone. The organisations working for welfare of Pakistan’s Hindu community such as Pakistan Balmik Sabha and Hindu Balmik Sudhar Sabha had been striving tirelessly since partition for funds for construction of a Shamshan Ghat in Lahore. The community partially succeeded in achieving the goal in 1976 when the Evacuee Property Trust Board allotted it a place on Bund Road for construction of a Shamshan Ghat. However, the land turned out to be a disputed property and the Hindus were made to vacate it.
There are about 4 million Hindus in Sindh and about half a million in Balochistan. On the balance if Pakistan counts its minorities fairly, it has between 13 to 14 million non-Muslims, not counting the 4 million forced non-Muslims of the Ahmadiyya community, which would make the number 18 million.
It is not clear to me frankly what is to be gained by under-reporting Non-Muslims. It only paints Pakistan as an intolerant society. If and when Pakistan decides to celebrate its diversity, it will realize that it has proportionally as diverse a population as India if not more. As author Tariq Ali wrote in one of his books, Jinnah’s vision of Pakistan was of a Muslim majority version of India. The sooner we accept this vision the better our chances of digging ourselves out of the hole of religious extremism that we find ourselves stuck in.