While the census draws to a close, the final figures are what the nation is waiting for. While the most important detail the political parties are anticipating in the changes in the sizes of their constituencies and their future delimitations, the census also hold many answers for marginalised communities in Pakistan.

Marginalised, attacked and subject to unsubstantiated blasphemy charges, Pakistan’s religious minorities are hoping the country’s first census since 1998 will be a step towards greater political representation and rights.

For the Christian community of Pakistan, the census will clarify the exact size of their community and lead to better representation in parliament according to their population. The present representation in the democratic system is based on the census of 1981. Estimates are approximate and disputed, ranging from two to 10 million for Christians, and 2.5 to 4.5 million for Hindus.

But then there is a dark side to this. Not all religious minorities are eager to make themselves known. Ahmadis, a minority sect declared non-Muslims by law number an estimated 500,000 and are victims of persecution and violence. When a Balochistan resident identified himself as Ahmadi to Pakistani census officials, he was chased out of the mosque where they had gathered families to be counted. If they don’t identify themselves as Ahmadi, for fear of their safety, census officials simply assume the Ahmadis are Muslim. This is potentially a dangerous move as if they declare themselves Muslim, they can be imprisoned for three years.

In the case of Hindus, activists from the community have protested the government’s decision to have a caste option in the census even though the community believes it should be recorded as one entity. This “thoroughness” does not apply to other minorities like the Sikh faith that has failed to make it onto the survey altogether.

With the country is moving forward on the census, and on anti-corruption and anti-terrorism drives, it is a shame that progress and safety only applies to the mainstream Muslim Pakistani. The minorities and marginal sects, by logic of their religious belief have a target painted on their backs. The census can enumerate them, but if there is no effort made to resolve their problems and protect them, even a frequent census will be able to do nothing about our troublesome demographic realities.