Islamabad, March 19 (IANS) Members and leaders of the Sikh community in Peshawar expressed their disappointment at being "left out" of the national census, saying they feared their community would not be adequately represented in Pakistan's first national headcount in 19 years.
"The concerned department has not included the Sikh minority in the ongoing count. It is not only unfortunate for us, it is also a point of great concern for the community to have been missed out in the counting exercise," Radesh Sing Tony, chairman of a Sikh committee, told the Dawn on Saturday.
He complained that a sizeable number of Sikhs was living in Pakistan, but the community was not counted among the religions included in the census form.
He noted that Sikhs would be counted under the "other" religion category in the form, which would not provide an accurate picture of the Sikh population.
"This is an injustice, we are being deprived of our rights," he said.
The 500-year-old religion was founded in what was now part of Pakistan. Most Sikhs left Pakistan for India after both countries gained independence from Britain in 1947.
Around 20,000 Sikhs remain in Pakistan today, most in the restive northwest regions, which have been rocked by an Islamist insurgency for more than a decade, forcing many to leave their homes in the tribal areas on the Afghan border for the city of Peshawar.
Tony said he had written to the Chief Justice of Pakistan and the Chief Justices of the Peshawar and Sindh High Courts requesting that the community be counted as an official religion.
When contacted, a spokesperson for the census exercise, Habibullah Khan, admitted that it was a mistake on the part of the census authorities.
"Yes, a sizable population of Sikhs are living in Pakistan, but have we missed them in the census," he told Dawn.
He said the census forms had been printed in 2007 and only five religions had been included on the recommendation of a 120-member technical committee.
He conceded that the Sikh population may have been marginal in 2007, but their population had increased with the passage of time.