When A Census Could Kill

Burma is set to hold one next month, but observers are worried it will inflame ethnic tensions:

The census, supported by several UN agencies, is deemed important because it has been more than 30 years since a nationwide census was conducted. Through the census, Myanmar’s demographic profile can be objectively determined, which would prove useful for policymakers and potential investors in planning for Myanmar’s development needs.

But the census question on ethnic or tribal identification threatens to ignite more conflicts in the country. The census form requires citizens to choose from the 135 ethnic groups identified by the government. This listing, according to some scholars, is a colonial legacy that should have been revamped a long time ago. Several ethnic groups have complained about being lumped with other minorities while others claimed they were dropped from the listing.

Thin Lei Win has more:

[T]he last census in 1983 reported the national population to be 89.4 percent Buddhist, 4.9 percent Christian, and 4.4 percent Muslim. Although it is widely believed Muslims were undercounted for political reasons, any divergence from the 1983 figures could inflame communal tensions, especially against the Rohingya. Since June 2012, religious conflict across Myanmar has killed at least 240 people and displaced more than 140,000 – most of them Rohingya whom Myanmar does not recognize as citizens.

“Many Rohingya fear the census will become a tool to further deny their access to citizenship rights and to further alienate them from the country’s diverse population. We share those concerns,” said [Matthew] Smith of Fortify Rights, which on Tuesday released a 79-page report on government abuses against the Rohingya using leaked government documents. “There’s a risk the census will contribute to statelessness rather than help end it, which is patently unacceptable.”

Previous Dish on strife in Burma here, here, and here. (Dish on “Burma” vs “Myanmar” here.)