A top court in Pakistan on Tuesday directed the government to add the Kalash community, the country’s smallest religious group, in the census form, days after the same court ordered the inclusion of minority Sikhs in the Muslim-majority nation’s first census in 19 years. A two-judge bench comprising of Justice Yahya Afridi and Justice Ikramullah of the The Peshawar High Court (PHC) asked the Pakistan Bureau of Statistics to include the Kalash religion on the national census form prior to the second phase of the exercise starting on April 25.
Kalash, the religion followed by some 4,000 members of the Kalash community, lies between Islam and an ancient form of Hinduism. Dwelling in the folds of the stony Hindu Kush mountains in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province, the tribe draws its lineage from the ancient Middle East or even from soldiers of Alexander the Great’s army, academics say.
The PHC’s order came after it heard a writ petition filed by members of the Kalash community on March 21. The petitioners had requested the court for the inclusion of the Kalash tribe in the census form as a separate entity with a distinct language, religion and culture, The Express Tribune reported.
Sabir Awan, the petitioner’s lawyer, told the court that the Kalash people subscribe to one of the oldest known religions of the region, and that their members continue to live in three remote villages in district Chitral. Awan cautioned that exclusion of the religion from the census form would be an injustice to the community and a violation of law, which guarantees equal rights to all its citizens. He pointed out that almost all major religions were included in the form except Kalash.
Members of the Kalash community present at the court appreciated the decision. “It’s a landmark decision and is a victory for the people of Kalash,” Wazir Zada, a member of Kalash was quoted as saying by Dawn newspaper.
Earlier in February, the people of Chitral had threatened to boycott the census for omitting the Kalash religion and 13 other languages being spoken in the district from the enumeration form. On March 22, the PHC had ordered authorities to ensure separate counting of Sikhs in the nationwide census, after the community members filed a plea for not being counted among the religions included in the national head-count, the first since 1998.
The PHC ordered that the section of Sikhism be included in the religion column in the census form. The first phase of the 6th census which started on March 15 had clubbed Sikhs with the Scheduled Castes of the country while separately counting the Muslims, Hindus, Christians and some other groups.