RANGOON — Ethnic Mon community leaders in Rangoon on Sunday began a census to determine the precise number on Mon people living in Burma’s former capital.
It is hoped the Mon Data Project, which began with a survey of residents in Ahlone Township, will ensure the minority are better represented in Parliament after the 2015 elections.
Nai Kao Lawi, a project officer at the Mon Data Project, told The Irrawaddy that the team would survey 50 Mon families, an estimated 300 people on Sunday.
He said it would take between three to eight days to collect data for each of Rangoon Division’s 45 townships. Data collection will run for the next two months.
Mon leaders say such a survey is necessary because at the time of the 2010 elections, they were told the Mon population was not large enough to mean an ethnic affairs minister would be appointed to represent them in Parliament. Other ethnic groups are represented by ministers for ethnic affairs.
Nai Chit Pe, a leading member of Mon Data Project’s committee, said the figures held by the Immigration Department for the number of Mon in the city were too low because many people are listed as Burman on their identification cards or housing registration documents.
“At the election in 2010, they [the Immigration Department] used the housing list from 30 years ago. They told us there are only 30,660 Mon people in Rangoon. Because of this, our Mon in Rangoon could not have a constituency in Rangoon,” said Nai Chit Pe.
He said the number of Mon actually living in the city—estimated to be home to more than 5 million people in all—was far higher.
Nai Soe Aung, the director of the Mon Data Project, said preparations for the project began in July, and that results from the survey would be made public in December, although funds are lacking at present.
The project needs a total of 30 million kyat, or about $31,000, but only about half of that had been raised in donations so far, he said.
“We have many challenges to do this project because we can’t hire many office staff because we do not have enough budget,” said Nai Soe Aung.
“We don’t get money from NGOs. We only got donations from Mon businessmen who are in Rangoon. We even asked donation from Mon overseas, but we have not got anything yet from them.”
The Mon Data Project is also seeking help from Mon residents and members of the Mon Literature and Culture committee to collect the data.
The Mon—one of the first ethnic groups to live in Southeast Asia who are thought to have built Rangoon’s Shwedagon Pagoda—are now estimated to total about 3 million in Burma.
Win Naing, who is a Mon community leader in Ahlone Township said the project to establish the number of Mon living in Rangoon had been a long time coming.
“We all know that there are many Mon staying in Rangoon. But, I was unhappy when I found that Mon do not have ethnic affairs minister while Arakan and Karen have them,” said Win Naing.