Aiming for a vibrant democracy therefore – more so since our rulers claim that we live in an open democracy – any subject should be open for discussion as long as it is done within a frame of respect, honesty and decency. The recent call to include ethnic count in the national census should be included in that category.
A census is a count of all the people that makes up a country. It is a 100% sample of population data collected every ten years with the objective of providing key indicators to help the country in formulating and guiding policies and legislation.
To better understand the purpose of a census, think of it as a blood test. It is done to detect, and address, blood diseases or disorders and provides important indicators about the current state of one’s health. The indicators can help prevent complications later in life and they remain quite useful in changing or adopting a specific lifestyle.
The call to include an ethnic count in the next census is subject to definition. Does it go strictly by its dictionary definition or do we use the Mauritian understanding of what ethnicity means? The last survey conducted in 2011 did ask for the respondent’s religion. Here’s the link to the questionnaire:
Section P17 states:
Write the religion as reported by the person. If the person has no religion, write «NO RELIGION».
Meanwhile, Section P01 wants to know the language of our forefathers.
Write the language(s) spoken by the person’s ancestors. Up to two answers are possible. For census purposes, consider creole and bhojpuri as languages.
What is the relevance of that question? Well, since religion alone cannot delineate between ethnicities, this question is actually a euphemism to indirectly make that determination. A person whose ancestors spoke French could not be ethnically Indian while someone identifying Urdu as his ancestral language would be Indian by ethnicity and Muslim by religion.
Surprisingly, none of these two collectibles is mentioned in the report http://statsmauritius.govmu.org/English/CensusandSurveys/Documents/ESI/toc1.htm
Of interesting note, the 1983 Census in Note C 11 Religion, it states:
The language of forefathers of the persons should also be specified when it is necessary to clearly establish the religious denomination of that person.
Meanwhile, Census 2000 continues to ask in Box 16: Religion and in Box 17: Ancestor's language. As such, there is a pattern in the different censuses that aim to do a direct count by religion and an indirect count by ethnicity, the results of which however are not made official.
The argument both in favour of and against publishing population count by religion and/or ethnicity is motivated by self-interest alone. In almost all cases it is political posturing. Either a call for it would propel someone as the leader of a community, a call against it would debunk the myth of someone else claiming the leadership of the same community. Saying that it is a threat to national unity is a blatant lie when the same religious/ethnic count is liberally used during elections to divide communities – otherwise living harmoniously side by side – in a clear attempt to target votes and instill fear and apprehension in voter intention. The roaring of the communal beast come election time stems from the carving up of electoral communities each into its respective sectarian compartments, often pitting one community against another.
A national count of the population by ethnicity is important to gauge the social health of a country akin to a blood test to gauge our physical health. But by denying it in the name of national unity while using it to prevent national unity is called national hypocrisy.