General Elections of Pakistan will be held in February 2024. Balochistan is the largest province of Pakistan Geographically with a population of 1,48,94402 people according to the report of the Pakistan Bureau of Statistics. The data of the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) shows that the total number of registered voters in Balochistan is just 52,84,594 which is almost one-third of the total population of the province. But in this number of registered voters, we don’t know the exact number of registered minority voters in Balochistan. Pakistan Bureau of Statistics and ECP never showed any data on their website regarding the population of minorities of Balochistan in 2023. Balochistan is rich with minority groups like Christians, Hindus, Parsi, and many others. If we talk about the data of the census of 2017 the population of Hindus was 45627, 33819 were Christians, and 2113 were Ahmadis. Never shows any data regarding Sikhs. According to the data of 2022, the total number of minorities electoral roles in Balochistan is 51245. In just Quetta minorities electoral roles are 19567 in which male electoral roles are 10041 and female electoral roles are 9526 respectively.
Former Provincial Minister of Pushtoon Khuwa Milli Awami Party (PKMAP) William Barkat said that in PKMAP we have no concept of minorities. There is no discrimination in our party regarding any minority. In our manifesto, it is mentioned that we have equal value and rights for everyone in the party, whether he is Chairman Mahmood Khan Achakzai or he is William Barkat. We don’t have specific rights for just minorities only because we believe that we all are equal. I personally never witnessed any mishap with minorities during elections at polling stations, regarding their registration or any other. We have 1300 units in Quetta city to mobilize people to register their selves as voters and we facilitate them if they face any issue or problem in this regard. If I talk about our Christian community colonies in the city like Basti Panchayat, Christian Town Samungli, Basheer Abad, and Essa Nagri, we also have mobilizing units in these areas to facilitate and advocate for people about elections, their rights, and voter registration. We have almost 70 thousand population of Christians in Quetta but only 25 to 30 thousand people are registered voters, it is the carelessness of our people to not register their selves properly.
Kavita Kumari, is banker by profession said that she cast her vote three times in general elections in her life. Not having a name in the voting list of our area is the main hurdle we face in polling booths. We try to argue with them and then we cast our votes there. Finding our names on the voting list is very crucial for us. As a minority female, we never face any harassment at polling booths but sometimes we face discrimination.
Meerub Azim from the Christian community said that I am a student and I cast my vote first time in the last general elections of 2018. As such I never face any discrimination but finding a polling station is a challenge for me. Reaching the polling station is not easy on election day because it is very far from our house. It is my first experience and the female polling agents help me to cast my vote but the reporters outside the polling stations ask awkward questions about how much money it takes to cast your vote which is a bad experience for me. Some people in our community do not know that vote casting is everyone’s right, I guess we have to be aware of them.
The philanthropist from the Christian community Jibran Gulzar said that I cast my vote four times in general elections. The main issue we faced as a minority was that finding our names on the voting list was not that easy. Sometimes our vote is not registered in our own area’s polling booth, it is registered somewhere else and it is not easy to reach there and cast our vote. At the polling booth when the polling agent knew that we were from a minority group they made our lines separate sometimes and we waited very long to cast our vote. There is no proper sitting arrangement on polling booths, there are long lines of voters which is not satisfactory. If any political worker helps us to find our name on the voting list, then they force us to vote for their party or candidate, otherwise, we never face any other harassment at polling booths. Our community is fully aware to cast their votes in general elections because nowadays everyone is educated and has awareness of the importance of vote casting.
Bushra Qamar senior journalist of Balochistan and Bureau Chief of GTV said that there are many roads and streets in Quetta city that were named for Hindu, Sikh, or Christian Communities like Gurdat Singh Road, Moti Ram Road, and Stewart Road. But after the partition Muslims occupied the properties of Hindus and Sikhs and also tried to change these roads’ names as well. This behavior encourages minorities to take their steps back and make their selves reserved. When the time changes political parties nominate their minority representatives from their party to make their vote bank stronger and get minority votes from the particular area. If we compare Christians with the Hindu community then Christians are more aware to cast their vote in general elections. The one main reason of Hindu community to not register their selves as voters is security issues in our country. While Hindus did not get targeted by any extremist groups like Christians get targeted in recent times. When the census has been held every community get a chance to register their selves as registered Pakistani citizen. After census statistics Election Commission of Pakistan runs campaigns on print media, mainstream media, and social media or through many other ways to make yourself register for voting in upcoming elections. if anyone does not register their self properly it is his/her fault, not a department error. If someone says that his/her name is not on the voting list, it means he/she did not register their self properly. I never witnessed any discrimination or harassment of minority groups in my whole career. No one harasses minority group women specifically. Overall female voters face some kind of harassment sometimes but no one specifically targets any minority group.
The Head of the Minority Commission Sardar Jasbir Singh said that in Balochistan almost 1000 families of the Sikh community have been lived. We call them Sikhs or the followers of Guru Nanak / Wahe Guru. Almost 5000 Sikhs or “Naam Leva” of Guru Nanak lived in Balochistan. One of the main issues we face at the time of registration is that sometimes our community names are the same as Muslim and Hindu names, like Iqbal, and Fateh, the relevance of Ayesha or Aasha is used in Muslim Hindus and Sikhs respectively. The Election Commission registered us as Hindus or Muslims and when we go to vote casting some of our people’s names were not on the list or finding their names is very crucial for us. These types of hurdles waste our time on polling stations, I think before elections they have to collect data and categorically arrange it community by community, it will make a difference. I make efforts to increase minority seats in the provincial assembly and give chances to the educated people who practically work for minorities. I have never personally witnessed any discrimination towards the Sikh community in my whole life at polling booths, by polling agents, or by any other citizens.
The President of Quetta Hindu Panchayat Raj Kumar said that some of our people complained that in the recent census, the Pakistan Bureau of Statistics never recorded their data but I am the resident of Patel Bagh Quetta city and they collect all data which is necessary for the census. We have three tribes in the Hindu community in which Balvik, Lachi, and Hindus are included. The total population of all these is about 25000 living in Quetta city, but all over Balochistan, our population is more than the Christian population. Hindus live in the areas of Mastung, Noshki, Kalat, Khuzdar, Bella, Uthal, Hub Chowki, Dadhar, Mach, etc. Ninety percent of our community cast their votes in general elections. If we talk about the registration process it is the same as others, we never face any hurdles, instead of hurdles, every department cooperates with us when they know we are a minority group. It is the responsibility of leaders of every community to advocate for their community and aware them of the importance of vote casting. If leader do not try to be aware and facilitate their people how does their community support them in elections? It is necessary to categorize every minority population because in Quetta city we have more than 3000 houses of Hindu community and we have an estimated value of 25000 population of Hindus in Quetta.
The anonymous source from the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) said the turnout of minorities has always been encouraged by their population. In 2018 almost 40 to 45 percent of minorities cast their votes in Balochistan. It is inappropriate to estimate their turnout before general elections are held. One thing can be said that owing to the awareness-raising sessions for minorities by ECP, will surely increase the turnout. While talking about the minority data of registered voters of different religions he said, “Generally minority voters are registered as male or female in voting list, we do not collect any data regarding their religion”. ECP has made the voting registration system, if a person makes a National ID card, he/she automatically registers through the Computerized Electoral Voting System, therefore I do not think minorities face any hurdles. The ECP has been conducting voter awareness campaigns, and reaching out to marginalized communities through District Voters Educational Committees led by the District Election Commissioner and Gender and Disability Electoral working group at the provincial level.