Ethnic population in 2022 census: Real picture not reflected
Indigenous leaders and researchers have questioned the accuracy of ethnic population data shown in the latest census report and said the actual figure would be much higher.
The Population Census 2022 found only 16,50,159 ethnic community people -- 824,751 males and 825,408 females -- living in Bangladesh. However, indigenous rights activists claim the number would be no less than 30 lakh.
In the census of 2011, the ethnic community population was 15,86,141 -- 7,97,477 males and 7,88,664 females -- which accounted for 1.10 percent of the country's total population.
As per the latest census, the number of ethnic population has increased by only 64 thousand in the last 11 years.
"The government in 2011 considered only 24 communities as separate ethnic groups while conducting the survey and found their total population to be 15.86 lakh," said Sanjeeb Drong, secretary general of Bangladesh Adivasi Forum.
This time 50 communities were taken into account but the rise in the number was not consistent with this as the census showed the population to be 16.50 lakh, he told The Daily Star yesterday.
"So this census is not authentic at all. The actual number of ethnic minority people would be no less than 30 lakh," he told The Daily Star yesterday.
Take the case of the Garo (Mandi) community. In the latest census, the number of Garo people is only 76,846.
Sajeeb, who belongs to this community, cited a 2016 government publication of International Mother Language Institute which mentioned the Garo population as 68,210 in 1991 and 84,565 in 2011.
The latest census mentions the number of Santal people to be only 1,29,049. But the community leaders claim their population would not be less than five lakh in the whole country as Santal people are scattered in all the northern districts and they also live in Sylhet region.
Banglapedia, the national encyclopaedia of Bangladesh, citing an estimate made by Christian missionaries in the 1980s, said the Santal population in northern Bangladesh was over one hundred thousand. According to the 1991 census, the Santal population was over two hundred thousand.
"But our population would not be less than five lakh. Initially, the government changed the name from Adivasi to small ethnic communities, and now they are intentionally reducing the number," said Rabindra Nath Soren, president of Bangladesh Adivasi Parishad and member of Santal community.
Indigenous leaders and researchers alleged that many of their communities live in the remote areas and the data collectors did not visit their villages and households. As a result, the census did not find the actual population data.
For the first time in the country, the census was conducted using customised Tablet PCs and Computer Assisted Personal Interviewing (CAPI) method -- a face-to-face data collection method -- and the data of 50 different ethnic communities living across Bangladesh were shown separately in the report.
Philip Gain of Society for Environment and Human Development (SEHD), who has long been researching on indigenous people, said the data of this census report is obviously questionable. In 1991, the Santal community was more than two lakh and now they have brought the number down to 1.29 lakh.
The 23 small ethnic communities living in tea estates of Sylhet region were not properly covered in the census, he added.
Mesbah Kamal, researcher and history professor at Dhaka University, said the government has mentioned names of 50 ethnic communities -- which is a welcome move.
"But at the same time, the report is not acceptable as it was prepared without engaging ethnic community leaders. It happened due to systematic flaws. I suggest conducting a special population census for small ethnic communities to find out the real number," he said.
Gaurango Patro, president of Patro Somproday Kaylan Parishad, an association of Patro community, told this correspondent that the census data collectors did not come to their house.
"Then on the last day, I myself called them and gave them information. According to our own survey of 2020, the number of Patro families in Bangladesh was 705 and the total number of people 3,999 -- males 2076 and females 1,923."
Yet, the census report says the population of Patro community is 3,100, he added.
Bivuti Bhuson Mahato, head of Bangladesh Bedia Mahato Youth Net, told this correspondent that Bedia Mahato people live in 41 villages in the country. "Our population will be 14,000 to 15,000 according to our own survey. But the census mentioned it's only 7,207."
Ridesh Mudi, the head teacher of Malnichhara Tea Garden Primary School in Sylhet, said there are over 500 families of an ethnic group called Kora in Dinajpur and also in 26 tea gardens in Sylhet division.
"Our population would be around 2,000. But the census shows only 816," he said.
Parimal Singh Baraik, president of Cha Jonogosthi Adivasi Front, said 83 Gurkha families, popularly known as Nepalis, live in Bandarban and tea gardens of Sylhet, Moulvibazar and Habiganj.
"But in the 2022 census, the Gurkha population is only 100," he said.
Pius Nanuar, a Kharia social activist who conducted a study on the population of his community in early 2020, told this correspondent that they found around 5,700 Kharia people in 41 villages of Sylhet division.
But in the 2022 census, the Kharia population is only 3,099. "No one came to count me or take any information about me."
Ram Papangg, who took part in a field-level population survey in Kormodha Union in Moulvibazar's Kulaura upazila, said only three villages in remote areas were not surveyed. "Later, the people of indigenous complained. Then on the last day, I went and conduct the survey."
Ripon Banerjee, population census supervisor of Rajghat union in Sreemangal, said some data collectors did not use the "tribal option" on their devices to "avoid trouble".
Dr Dipankar Roy, technical head of the latest census project, said a census is not an estimation. "Activists may say a lot of things; they may estimate any number at will. But the census report is based on facts and figures," he added.
"Many estimated that the total population of the country would be 18 crore or 20 crore, but the census did not reflect that. We found the population 16.51 lakh. Things are like that."