Kuki Call For Full Disclosure Ahead of Ethnic Census Data’s Release

By Moe Myint 7 January 2016

RANGOON — A committee representing Burma’s ethnic Kuki minority is urging the government to transparently disclose 2014 census ethnicity data that have been withheld to date.

The Myanmar Census Kuki Representative Committee this week made the call in a bid to see that the group, which is not considered an “official” ethnicity in Burma, can know precisely how many Kuki reside in the country.

The Kuki are not recognized as one of the country’s 135 official ethnic groups, as enshrined in the 1982 Citizenship Law, a contentious piece of legislation that was used as a framework for categorization in the UN-backed census.

The committee held a press conference at the Myanmar Journalists’ Network on Wednesday, and released a six-point statement that welcomed the undertaking of the census, but recommended full disclosure of the data collected in March and April of 2014.

At the heart of the issue for the Kuki is the numeric code 914, which was designated by the government as a catch-all for those enumerated who did not recognize themselves as one of Burma’s 135 official ethnicities.

Committee member Lhu Kho Pao told reporters that the Kuki minority’s population had shrunk since Burma gained independence from British colonial rule: According to a 1947 census under the British, he said the ethnic Kuki population numbered almost 100,000 across Burma, but by 1990, the military government tallied only 40,000 Kuki, who were considered Chin and not a distinct ethnic group.

Use of the 1982 Citizenship Law as the basis for the census was thus problematic, according to Neh Kho Lala.

“Of the 135 [official] ethnicities of Burma, some ethnics like Ka Thae do not exist on the ground, as far as I know, and even if they exist they will be a very few people, so we need to review that list,” he said.

Neh Kho Lala said ethnic Zomi, who like the Kuki reside primarily in Chin State, would also have identified under 914—outside the parameters of the Citizenship Law despite a party representing the group proving to be one of the rare success stories for ethnic political parties in Burma’s Nov. 8 general election.

Others, such as ethnic Chinese and some Muslims, would also have identified as 914. One group that did not, due to the government’s refusal to allow it, was minority Rohingya Muslims, who were not recorded at all if they self-identified as such and were only given the option to list their ethnicity as “Bengali.”

Most census data was released in May of last year, though information on ethnicity and religion were withheld, with the government saying this data required additional time to tabulate. The particularly sensitive and potentially destabilizing nature of details on the country’s ethnic and religious composition are believed to have been a contributing factor to the delayed release of the information.

When the final results of the undertaking are ultimately released, expected sometime this year, Neh Kho Lala stressed the need to ensure that each distinct group should be identified as such and not lumped into the singular category of “other.”

Khine Khine Soe, director of the Population Department under Burma’s Ministry of Immigration and Population, told The Irrawaddy on Thursday that the 914 code was used to group all ethnicities outside the official 135 for the purpose of easing computer tabulation. Groups like the Kuki would see there number tallied manually and provided to the public when the data on ethnicity are released, she added.

Nearly 100 distinct ethnic groups were recorded under the 914 designation, Khine Khine Soe said, adding that her department had completed compilation of the census results on ethnicity and religion, and was awaiting government approval to release the information.

Neh Kho Lala said the government should organize a meeting with representatives of the nearly 100 groups, with the purpose of discussing the affairs of these ethnicities falling outside the 1982 Citizenship Law.

Lhu Kho Pao on Wednesday acknowledged that the “Chin” ethnicity was comprised of 53 different subgroups, but pointed out that the Kuki were not among them. This system of categorization existed despite some official subgroups, such as the Khaung Saing, Guite and Thadou, actually sharing a language, body of literature and culture with the Kuki, he said.