The Peshawar High Court (PHC) on Tuesday directed the Pakistan Bureau of Statistics to include the Kalasha religion on the national census form prior to the second phase of the exercise starting April 25.
A two-judge bench of the PHC announced the order while hearing a writ petition filed by members of the Kalash community. The government was represented in court by the deputy attorney general.
Sabir Awan, the petitioner's lawyer, informed the court that the Kalash people subscribe to one of the oldest known religions of the region, and that their members continue to live in three remote villages in district Chitral.
Awan cautioned that exclusion of the religion from the census form would be an injustice to the community and a violation of law, which guarantees equal rights to all its citizens. He pointed out that almost all major religions were included in the form except Kalash.
After hearing arguments from both sides, the court directed the government to include the Kalash religion on the census form before April 25.
Members of the Kalash community present at the court appreciated the decision.
"It's a landmark decision and is a victory for the people of Kalash," Wazir Zada, a member of Kalash told Dawn.
Earlier in February, the people of Chitral had threatened to boycott the census for omitting the Kalasha religion and 13 other languages being spoken in the district from the enumeration form.
Representatives of the Kalash community were reported to have warned that the tribe was already endangered and their exclusion from the census database would create further complications, especially with regards to their size and strength.
Currently, the Kalash tribe is estimated to be around 3,500-4,000 strong.
Described as an “anthropological enigma”, the Kalash community is more than a magnet for local and international tourism.
Dwelling in the folds of the stony Hindu Kush mountains, the tribe draws its lineage from the ancient Middle East or even from soldiers of Alexander the Great's army, academics have speculated.
Kalasha, the religion followed by Kalash community, lies between Islam and and an ancient form of Hinduism.
Their ritualistic ceremonies serve as a potent reminder of the region's pre-Islamic past.
However, in recent years, there has been a sense of existential insecurity surrounding the tribe and its cultural identity.