The Great Number Game

Photo by: Bilal Bahadur

The credibility of census post-partition in Kashmir has always been suspect, with accusations of fudging. Now leaders across ideological barriers are asking people to participate in the 2011 exercise creating hopes of a promising headcount. Will it be?

Separatism’s young ideologue Shakeel A Bakhshi broke the ice in March, when he asked people to ensure participation in 2011 census. Earlier separatists had called for abstaining from the headcount exercise. Non-participation in the headcount, he told a lawyers’ seminar helps them (read Delhi) “to claim that Muslims constitute only 66 percent of J&K’s population”. He asked intelligentsia to make people aware of the consequences of non-participation in the decadal enumeration exercise and suggested those living in Chenab Valley, Poonch and Rajouri to register as “Kashmiri speaking Muslims” because efforts are “underway to prove Kashmiri speaking Muslims a minority.”

It seemed as if lot many people were waiting for somebody to bell the cat. JKLF leader M Yasin Malik picked up the queue and sought participation in the exercise starting May 15. “There is no politics in it,” Malik said. “Last time, we had asked people to stay away from the process but now we feel that it was not a wise decision.” He said in 2001 census “people didn’t participate in the process and the actual population couldn’t be established”.

It was the turn of Kashmir’s most flamboyant political face Dr Farooq Abdullah who, on April 18, asked people to ensure participation. “If we won’t register ourselves in the census, we will face many problems. Above all, Muslims will be shown a minority which is not true,” he said, “Hurriyat factions should also participate and don’t let erode the reality that J&K is a Muslim majority state.”

Ailing, aged hawk Syed Ali Shah Geelani being termed by many as “extreme reference point on Kashmir” stamped the idea by not only asking Muslims to get registered but also announced his plans to launch a ‘massive awareness programme’. He alleged that the enumerators do not enlist the Muslims minorities in Jammu region.

This is enough for Farooq Ahmad, J&K’s Chief Principal Census Officer to be happy. “Response to this census will be high,” he said, adding “Everybody wants people to participate in the exercise.” He is busy training and arranging 32000 enumerators, 4352 supervisors and 664 master trainers who would be deployed in 6650 villages, 85 statutory towns and 36 census towns across J&K’s 22 districts.

At least in this assignment, Farooq seems to be lucky man. His predecessor Feroz Ahmad, serving IRC post retirement, had to face many difficulties including some violence.

It was Prof Saif ud Din Soz, now the Congress president in the state, who while addressing a jam packed news conference in Srinagar in September 1999 alleged that census was aimed at falsely lowering the number of Muslims in Kashmir to undermine the separatist movement. “It is a conspiracy against Muslims and will add another dimension to the strife,” he said. “This state has always been a Muslim-majority state, but now I suspect that a lot of manoeuvring will take place (during the census).” Apprehending the enumerators would count security forces deployed across J&K to alter state demography, Soz had asked unionists and separatists to unite and “take collective stand.”

While separatist politicians issued statement against the census, the insurgents “contributed” by throwing their hat into the crisis. Hizb ul Mujahideen was the first to call for a boycott of the exercise. It threatened employees, who participate in the exercise tasked to produce “doctored statistics”. Shadowy al-Fateh chipped in by stating that the operation will not be able to offer the actual headcount as “thousands of Kashmiri’s are displaced, dislocated, (have) migrated, (are) jailed or (have) been forcibly taken away by the army.” There was a raid on a government building by insurgents and the records were damaged. Twin trade unions of the employees announced to stay away but eventually 22697 employees were forced, in certain cases they were picked up in raids and asked to finish their assignments first, to carry out the census. The exercise finally went on incident (violence) free.

Census in J&K is not a post-partition phenomenon. J&K boasts of the maiden census in 1873 though the first professionally sound enumeration is believed to be that of 1911. The operations continued after every decade, before and after the partition barring two breaches.

In 1951, the first post-partition operation was not carried out because of the “disturbed conditions” and in 1991 various outfits issued threats and managed the postponement of the headcount.

But people unhappy with the institution of census had their experiences ground in the 1981 operations that triggered a major controversy. Even the government led by Dr Farooq Abdullah rejected the outcome of the exercise saying it was biased against the majority community (read Muslims). State legislature would witness heated debates over the issue during 1983 and 1987.

Dr Farooq Abdullah

At a function of Iqbal Academy in honour of DD director Mazhar Imam on July 9, 1988, the then chief minister Dr Farooq Abdullah said the Census figures are “patently manipulated”. He said 2.8 per cent growth in the Muslim population against 3 per cent of non-Muslims was unbelievable.

The last pre-militancy census (1981) put the J&K population at 59,87,389. Of them, 52.36 per cent were living in Kashmir districts, 2.24 per cent in Ladakh districts and the rest of 45.39 per cent in Jammu. It said Muslims form 64.19 per cent of the total population of the state, a decline in the ratio that began after 1941 and continued with every passing census operation (see table). In 1941 Muslims comprised 72.40 per cent of the population.

This offered currency to the ‘fudging theory’ that was already in circulation after central government’s opposition to the ‘controversial’ Resettlement Act and strong reservations to the Transfer of (land) Property Act (now amended) and complex State Subject system (now neutralized fully). The May 1993 meeting between BJP leader L K Advani and Shimon Peres, then Israeli Foreign Minister, in which he “favourably responded” to Peres’s suggestion of “replication of demographic transformation as Israel had done in Palestine, to change the composition of population in Kashmir by settlement of non-Muslims there”, had reinforced the faith that fudging had more to do with politics than numbers.

Though the central government officially denied executing any such plan, the occasional suggestions of rehabilitating ex-servicemen in the border areas created suspicion among the people.

In fact China has started ethnic flooding of Tibet. It is paying huge amounts to support the families who are settling in Tibet. Pakistan is also accused of doing the same in Gilgit and Baltistan. “This is a big game”, said a senior teacher in the University of Kashmir. “We are on the decline as far the figures go and if new non-Muslim settlers come, we will be in the minority one day and then Delhi will announce that they are ready for the plebiscite,” he added.

Under tremendous pressure from various sides, the state government finally managed a “special census” in 1987 through the Directorate of Census Operations. (The Registrar General & Census Commissioner of India runs a full-fledged office, Directorate of Census Operations, in the state. Its director, usually, is a senior state officer who is sent on deputation. Though the staffers of the state government are doing the actual enumeration, the directorate functions as the trainer, supplier of the material, evaluates the data and is the custodian of the information.)

Though the Special Census relied upon the projected population of Jammu tehsil and Ladakh region, it failed to include statistics of 60 villages across the state, it did detect disparities in the 1981 census. The salient features of this exercise included:

In 1987 the total population of the state was 71,70,703 of whom 47,11,029 were Muslims and the rest non-Muslims – Hindus, Christians, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains and others.

While the 1981 census had concluded that Muslims constituted 64.19 per cent of the total population, the 1987 exercise put the figure at 65.70 per cent.

Its evaluations did change the percentage of Muslims in all the six districts of Kashmir valley. Muslims were found to be forming 95.95 per cent of Kashmir valley against 94.96 as was recorded by 1981 census.

The percentage of Muslims got decreased in the Muslim majority districts of Jammu province. These included Doda, Udhampur, Jammu, Kuthua and Rajouri while in case of Poonch district alone, the Muslim percentage marginally increased.

The 1981 census said 45.39 per cent of the total population lives in Jammu region, 2.25 per cent in the desert Ladakh region and the rest of 52.36 per cent in Kashmir, the 1987 exercise put these figures at 43.90 per cent, 2.19 per cent and 53.91 per cent, respectively.

For the 1981-87 period, the percentage growth rate was put at 19.76 for the whole the state, 15.83 for Jammu region, 23.31 for the Kashmir region and 16.65 for the Ladakh region. Muslims, according to this headcount, had a percentage growth of 22.57 in this period.

Results of the Special Census were not made public for reasons best known to the central and the state governments. Officially, the Director Census Operations said the special census had limited objective to identify the Scheduled Tribes in the state (and) the government considered the report for the list that was out in 1990. Employees in the Directorate, however, admit that the 1987 census was a fact. “Since this was an exercise aimed at identifying the STs so it was restricted to state subjects alone, no outsiders, no security forces, so it reflected the ground realities …”, said an official. The government never offered any answers to why it skipped publishing the outcome of the Special Census and for not accepting the mistakes in the earlier exercises. Unofficially, the workers in the census office would admit the “frauds” (of 1981) they detected later.

Regardless of which headcount was wrong and why state’s demography did witness a series of upheavals after 1941, the last census carried out by Cpt R G Wreford, the then Census Commissioner of (undivided) J&K. Later in 1947, an intense war over Kashmir gave birth to the ceasefire line, now LoC. Partition coincided with the worst communal violence almost everywhere outside Kashmir – in Muzaffarbad on one side and Jammu on another side.

Kanak Mundi: A busy scene around noon. KL Image: Masood Hussain

Take the case of Jammu, the city of temples. According to 1941 census, there were 4,31,362 people of whom 1,70,789 were Muslims. In 1981 when the population had swelled to 9,43,395, there were only 40,309 Muslims. Against a percentage of 45.33 of Muslims in Jammu region in 1931, it stood at 29.59 per cent in 1981 census. This indicates the magnitude of the people’s migration or their killing as is widely believed.

The fleeing population left property worth billions of rupees and the state government had to create a department called the “custodian evacuee property” that looks after it. Though the actual records of the Evacuees Property of 1950 has been spoiled by the then government, the statistics following a survey in 1974 revealed that there are 7989 houses, 655 shops at commercial sites, 21 garages, 1350 khokhas, 113 orchards and 1,53,608 kanals of agriculture and housing land.

At the time of partition, non-Muslims from PaK areas and neighbouring Sialkote came fleeing creating a refugee population. They were of two types: Displaced Persons (DP) who lived on the other side of the LoC before partition in erstwhile J&K and Sharnarthis (refugees) who came fleeing from Western Pakistan. Unlike DPs who are bona fide state subjects, Sharnarthis do not enjoy the same rights. While they can cast their vote for the Lok Sabha, they cannot vote for the state assembly.

No exact details are available. But Revenue Ministry records suggest that of 31,619 families who migrated from PaK 26, 319 stayed in J&K in 1947. Of them, 22,719 families settled in rural and 3600 families in urban areas. From 1947 to mid-1950s, according to former chief minister Ghulam Nabi Azad (April 27, 2008, at Kathua) land was given to these families at the rate of 32 kanals aabi (arable) or 48 kanals khushki (non-arable) per family. For 4988 families who claimed they were not compensated (1965-2000), the central government announced a Rs 50 crore package.

Officials said 4745 families comprising 21,979 souls from West Pakistan are settled in different areas of Jammu, Kathua, and Rajouri.

There were additional migrations from either side of the LoC during the wars in 1965 and 1971. Not many details are known. In Pakistan, Kashmiris are a different set of mohajirs. They now constitute over 15 lakh population of Pakistan. Muzaffarabad’s Rehabilitation and Relief ministry say they rehabilitated 9740 refugee families from Kashmir that crossed over after 1965 war. Even though Kashmir was away from 1971 war theatre 10,000 people are claimed to have reached PaK after the fall of Dhaka.

A view from Rustumgari, Takht-e-Sulaiman, towards Polo Ground

Despite a couple of wars, many floods, epidemics and a couple of limited droughts, the population did not suffer a major change in the state. However, things altered significantly after the rise of the militancy in 1989. Even police admit over 50,000 have been slain since then. The NGOs operating in Kashmir and separatists claim the death toll to be much higher.

There was massive migration. Human Rights Watch in its report ‘With friends like these’ released in September 2006 about the state of civil liberties in PaK said the rehabilitation officials informed it about the presence of 29,932 registered refugees. The watchdog estimated the presence of around 5000 unregistered Kashmiri refugees including former militants.

Barring a few thousand Kashmiri Pandits, the entire community lives out of Kashmir. State’s Relief Commissioner at Jammu is taking care of the 38119 migrant families (including 2168 Muslim and 1748 Sikh families) in the temple city alone. Around 22000 families of Kashmiri Pandits living outside J&K are scattered across India.

The migration from the countryside to Srinagar peaked during militancy. Though it is a routine for the rural elite it peaked during turmoil not for facilities but for security. State government employees and professionals were the first to move to leave the countryside almost without the average services in medical care and education.

No census operation, however, is designed to offer the tragedies and travails of a society. It is a number game that offers the broad basics of a trend in housing, education, work participation and age. On that count, even the 2001 census that militants opposed tooth and nail was not such a bad exercise. It, in fact, negated a trend that earlier censuses had build. It showed the percentage of Muslims across J&K growing and Hindus exhibiting a decline.

It was a mixed bag of surprises. For the first time post-partition, the percentage of Hindu and Sikh population was shown on the decline. Muslims and microscopic minorities like Jain and Christians had improved their tally.

The 1981 census showed Christians as the fastest growing community in J&K. In 20 years (1981-2001) they exhibited phenomenal growth. Compared to 1981 when they were merely 0.14 per cent of the total population with 8,481 souls, Christians were 20,299 strong community in 2001 – 0.2 per cent of the total. Earlier restricted to the twin cities of Jammu and Srinagar, Christians this time were found across the state. In Islamabad, they had jumped from 36 to 290, in Pulwama from zero to 625, in Baramulla from 106 to 527, in Kupwara from 19 to 545, in Poonch from 48 to 238 and in Srinagar 209 to 1529. With the highest literacy rate of 74.8 per cent, the community has exhibited a massive growth despite having a skewed sex ratio – 594 female per thousand males among adults and 834 in children.

The 2001 census showed the percentage of Muslim population increase by 2.78 from 1981, and that of Hindus decline by 2.62. The changes took place in a period of worst demographic upheavals – massive deaths, migration, low growth rate and over-emphasis on family planning, in predominantly Muslim belts across J&K. More questions were raised than answers.

Even the distribution of communities across Kashmir districts offered an interesting enigma. In Kupwara, for instance, the 2001 headcount suggested there were 545 Christians, 208 Buddhists and 177 Jains. Since massive growth in Christians could be linked to the efforts that various Western evangelists might be making but the population of Buddhists and Jains makes the exercise doubtful. There were 217 Buddhists in Kupwara in 1971 but not a single one in 1981. As for Jains, they were traced neither in 1971 nor in 1981 in the border district.

In neighbouring Baramulla where the Buddhists population fell from 122 in 1971 to two males in 1981, the 2001 headcount suggests they exhibited a massive growth and their population rose to 723. Their population in twin south Kashmir districts of Pulwama and Islamabad exhibited the same trend. While 1981 census did not trace any of the Buddhists in any of the two districts, their population stands at 172 in Islamabad and 80 in Pulwama. No Jain lived in Rajouri and Islamabad in 1981 but in 2001 their numbers stand at seven and nine, respectively.

As thousands of enumerators are readying for field jobs, this time they have almost everybody at their back. No threats and no problems. Can this exercise be clean?


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