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