‘Karachi’s population was deliberately undercounted to keep status quo’

Arif Hasan

KARACHI: Distinguished architect and town planner Arif Hasan on Tuesday discussed several unique aspects of Karachi and said that there was an impression that population of the country’s commercial capital was deliberately underrated in the 2017 population census to keep the status quo.

“There are many unique facets to Karachi. This is the only place in Pakistan where the political leadership and public questioned the 2017 census. According to an international organisation, in 2016 the city’s population was 22.8 million. An impression is that it was deliberately undercounted [in 2017] to keep the status quo,” he said.

Speaking at a seminar titled ‘Ownership of Karachi’ at the Pakistan Medical Association (PMA) House, Mr Hasan said that Karachi was the biggest non-Sindhi-speaking city of a predominantly Sindhi-speaking province.

The programme, moderated by PMA’s Mirza Ali Azhar, was organsised by the Concerned Citizens Alliance in association with the PMA.

Pashto speaking population has increased from 8pc in 1981 to 15pc in 2017 in city

Mr Hasan narrowed down his topic to ‘What the census tells us’ and said the census of a country gives us details of its population. It tells us about the overall social and economic conditions as well as about human settlements. But it doesn’t tell us about trends. Trends are seen by comparing old censuses to the latest ones.

He said therefore, he and his team’s research took into account the censuses that happened in 1981, 1998 and 2017. Doing so, they also took into account a comparative analysis of Lahore and to some extent Delhi to get a clearer picture.

The architect said from 1981 to 1998 Karachi’s population increased by 260,000 per year, and from 1998 to 2017 the number shot up to 325,000 per year.

‘Sindh’s 60pc urban population lives in Karachi’

Continuing with the argument about the uniqueness of Karachi, Mr Hasan said 60 per cent of the urban population of Sindh resides in the city whereas in Lahore, with respect to the province of Punjab, it’s 27 per cent. “Karachi’s urban population is overwhelming,” he said.

The mother tongue of 11pc of people living in Karachi is Sindhi while the mother tongue of 80pc of residents of Lahore is Punjabi. “Karachi is the largest non-Sindhi-speaking city of a predominantly Sindhi speaking province.”

In the 1981 census, the Urdu speaking population in Karachi was 57.34pc, which decreased to 48pc in 1998 and in the 2017 census it further decreased to 42.30pc, he said, adding that the Pashto speaking population has increased the most from eight per cent to 11pc to 15pc (between the three census taking time periods).

The Sindhi speaking population, too, has increased from six to seven and now 11pc. “If these trends continue, then the Urdu speaking population will keep decreasing and Pashto and Sindhi speaking people will keep increasing,” he said.

He then shifted his focus on marital status with the 15-24 age bracket considered to be the most important.

He said the number of married women decreased considerably from 1981 to 1998 but then again increased in 2017 to 30.87pc, which means that a majority of women in Karachi comprises unmarried adolescents. The divorce rate has also gone up.

In 1981 and 1998 Karachi compared to Lahore was doing better in the divorce rate [there were less divorces] but in 2017, Lahore’s numbers are better.

Lahore ahead of Karachi in female literacy rate

Shedding light on the subject of literacy, Mr Hasan said in 1981 Karachi fared better than Lahore but in 2017 the situation changed, as female literacy in Karachi in 2017 was 77.9pc whereas in Lahore it was 84.5pc.

With regard to housing, among other things, he told the attendees that 34 to 35pc people in Karachi live in rented houses. In terms of utilities, from 1981 to 1998 the number of shared bathrooms and kitchens has come down from 19pc to 13pc. And access to potable water in Lahore has increased in comparison to Karachi.

After his address, Mr Hasan invited his team members Dhuha Alvi and Amal Hashim to talk about educational attainment and employment. The latter also pointed out the shortcomings in the 2017 census.

Architect and town planner Fazal Noor, an assistant professor at Sir Syed University, said vis-à-vis the original topic that we are not just looking at the population but also at the built up area which has been increasing.

Published in Dawn By Peerzada Salman, August 17th, 2022

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