Long-awaited cen­sus re­sults on re­li­gion to be re­leased on July 21

The Myanmar Times - - News - YE MON yeemon­tun@mm­times.com

THE Min­istry of Labour, Im­mi­gra­tion and Pop­u­la­tion will re­lease sen­si­tive cen­sus data on Myan­mar’s re­li­gious make-up on July 21 and plans to make pub­lic cor­re­spond­ing fig­ures on eth­nic pop­u­la­tions within six months, ac­cord­ing to a se­nior min­istry of­fi­cial.

U Myint Kyaing, the min­istry’s per­ma­nent sec­re­tary, told The Myan­mar Times yes­ter­day that the lon­gawaited re­lease of the re­li­gious data had been de­layed by the po­lit­i­cal tran­si­tion ear­lier this year.

“We will re­lease the num­bers on re­li­gion and we have al­ready pre­pared to re­lease it. We had planned to re­lease these re­main­ing data since the pre­vi­ous gov­ern­ment, but it co­in­cided with the tran­si­tion pe­riod,” U Myint Kyaing said.

While re­sults for most of the 2014 cen­sus were re­leased last year, the break­down of Myan­mar’s re­li­gious and eth­nic com­po­si­tion was with­held due to their con­tentious na­tures. In the case of re­li­gious data, con­cerns fo­cus on what the data may re­veal about the size of the coun­try’s Mus­lim pop­u­la­tion rel­a­tive to that of the ma­jor­ity Bud­dhists as ten­sions be­tween the two groups linger.

Myan­mar’s Mus­lim pop­u­la­tion of­fi­cially stood at 4 per­cent of the na­tion­wide to­tal in 1983, the same pro­por­tion as a cen­sus con­ducted a decade ear­lier, though the ac­tual fig­ure then and now is be­lieved to be higher.

The In­ter­na­tional Cri­sis Group said in a May 2014 re­port that “there are strong indi­ca­tions that the real num­ber col­lected at that time was over 10 per­cent, and was re­vised down as a re­sult of po­lit­i­cal in­struc­tions. This could un­wit­tingly re­in­force ex­trem­ist nar­ra­tives that the coun­try is be­ing over­run by Mus­lims” when the 2014 fig­ures are re­leased.

Data on eth­nic­ity has also proved con­tro­ver­sial.

U Myint Kyaing said yes­ter­day that the Min­istry of Eth­nic Af­fairs would ar­range to hold dis­cus­sions with eth­nic lead­ers to re­solve un­spec­i­fied prob­lems hold­ing back the eth­nic data’s re­lease.

“The dis­cus­sion will take five or six months,” he said. “I think the eth­nic af­fairs min­istry will lead these dis­cus­sions. The data on eth­nic­ity has been com­piled but it could be a con­tro­ver­sial re­port. There­fore, we need to hold a lot of dis­cus­sions with eth­nic lead­ers.”

The Min­istry of Eth­nic Af­fairs and the Pyithu Hlut­taw’s com­mit­tee for eth­nic af­fairs and in­ter­nal peace­mak­ing in­tend to co­or­di­nate to hold the talks with eth­nic lead­ers be­fore the gov­ern­ment’s re­lease of the data.

U Ing Htung Hka Naw Sam, sec­re­tary of the par­lia­men­tary com­mit­tee, said yes­ter­day that the gov­ern­ment had not yet in­formed com­mit­tee mem­bers of the forth­com­ing dis­cus­sion.

“I don’t know when the gov­ern­ment will start the dis­cus­sion,” he said.

Spokesper­sons for the Min­istry of Eth­nic Af­fairs could not be reached for com­ment yes­ter­day.

Salai Isaac Khen, Chin State’s min­is­ter for de­vel­op­ment af­fairs, elec­tric­ity and in­dus­try, and the ex­ec­u­tive direc­tor of the Gen­der and De­vel­op­ment Ini­tia­tive (Myan­mar), said that while he con­sid­ered the largely Chris­tian pop­u­la­tion broadly cat­e­gorised as Chin to be bro­ken down into five tribal groups, oth­ers dis­agree. Such dis­crep­an­cies, he ac­knowl­edged, could present prob­lems if left un­ad­dressed be­fore the re­port’s re­lease.

“Some say there are 53 tribal branches un­der the Chin eth­nic group. We are in­ter­ested in the re­port and what it has to say,” he said.

The pre­vi­ous gov­ern­ment col­lected cen­sus data from March 29 to April 10, 2014, the first proper ac­count­ing of the pop­u­la­tion in more than 30 years. The de­ci­sion to in­clude eth­nic and re­li­gious data has been crit­i­cised as un­nec­es­sary and po­ten­tially provoca­tive.

The enu­mer­a­tion process it­self was also marred by con­tro­versy as re­spon­dents in­sist­ing that they be al­lowed to self-iden­tify as Ro­hingya Mus­lims were not counted. The un­counted pop­u­la­tion was ul­ti­mately es­ti­mated at just over 1 mil­lion, out of a to­tal pop­u­la­tion of nearly 51.5 mil­lion.

The ICG re­port urged “great sen­si­tiv­ity” in re­leas­ing the cen­sus data.

“The re­lease of the in­evitably con­tro­ver­sial re­sults in the com­ing months will have to be han­dled with great sen­si­tiv­ity if fur­ther dan­gers are to be min­imised,” it said.

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