Posted by : Niyati Adhikari
Nepal conducted its 12th National Census from November 11 to 25 2021. First census after the country transitioned to a federal republic. Thus, census is based on the principle of inclusion as enshrined in the preamble of the Constitution of Nepal 2015. People headcount were done on the basis of the caste-ethnicity, language, religion, sex, social class, geology, disability, age, income and gender or gender minorities.
Two additional ethnic group – Rana Tharu and Bahumihar has been included to the census this time, increasing the total number of ethnic groups to 127. For the first time in the census, people of gender minorities are counted as ‘third gender.’ The government has added new categories in the census of people of disability which includes haemophilia, autism, complete blindness, and deafness. The Census of persons with disabilities also separated 12 groups with deafness and low vision in the current census, to confirm the status quo of persons with disabilities.
Controversial remarks regarding the methodology of census and the negligence committed by the enumerators was widespread. The enumerators of the census have been alleged to use pencil while filling out the forms, instead of ink pen. This raised a question on the credibility of the answers. Use of pencil is considered dubious by the citizens as they fear their answers may be altered later for political benefit. However, there are also voices which believes that use of pencil is convenient as there are chances enumerator may make a mistake when filling in the questionnaire, in which case this has to be erased and the mark inserted correctly. Since census is about collecting details from the citizens, and data will disclose the quality of overall political consideration as well as legibility of the society. Therefore, it is imperative to consider the opinion of general public to take people into confidence.
The Nepal Federation of Indigenous Nationalities issued a statement alleging the census enumerators did not ask the questions on language and religion and themselves filled in the answers to the questions. An incident took place in Lamjung, where an enumerator was apprehended because he/she listed their religion as Hindu despite being told that they are Buddhists. Similarly, in Saptari, Siraha and Dhanusha, local enumerators were accused of writing without asking questions when compiling data on language and religion.
Citizens also showed discontentment towards the set of questionnaires. According to Sarita KC, executive director of Mitini Nepal, an LGBTI organisation; the main census questionnaire did not recognised queer people and categorized the head of the household only as man or woman, not listing themselves based on their gender identity.
Questions were raised on the method of counting caste-ethnicity (jaat-jaati) by the enumerators, where they allegedly presumed the caste and ethnicity of their respondents. According to the enumerator’s handbook, jaat relates to a hindu caste surname, whereas jaati refers to indigenous ethnicity. However, because the same question seeks to address both jaat and jaati, responding to it can be highly perplexing.
The enumerators also raised their grievance towards the attitude of the citizens, who were reluctant to provide information. Some even denied to participant in the census and some provided wrong information.There is a need to take people into confidence and make them aware of the census. In an another instance, Dalits living in rented houses were reluctant to disclose their last name due to fear of eviction during census. Dalits usually don’t reveal their last names or they lie about being from an “upper caste”.
Experts claimed that, the public’s reluctance to share their information could be due to a lack of education and awareness about the census’ importance and due to social stigma. Furthermore, the experts indicated that fears about Covid-19 might be one of the reasons why individuals are unwelcoming to enumerators.
The enumerators also had problem conducting census in two village of Darchula- Tinkar and Chhangru. The Indian authorities refused to give entry passes to use the Indian territory to reach the villages, citing “damaged road”. The team had to used the long-abandoned foot trail to cross into the two villages. After the work, team were flown to the district headquarters Khalanga by a helicopter. Nepali Officials suspects that Indian authorities denied the entry because of fear that the enumerator might conduct an informal census in the Kalapani area, which India claims as its territory.
Census have significant implications in Nepali politics mainly because it will determine political and bureaucratic representation of women, Madeshis, Dalits, Indigenous and marginalised community. Census is also an innovative means for developing and executing social innovations aimed at addressing social, geographical and economic issues that affect society. However, citizens have raised their doubts over the census data for under representing people from different categories like religious minorities, language, caste and ethnicity. Thus, census should be free from controversy and doubts.
The preliminary result of the census would be announced after three months and the final result would be made public after a year.