19 January 2015
[I recently went through with some textbooks and it was really depressing to find that Pakistani textbooks cannot mention Hindus without calling them cunning, scheming, deceptive or something equally insulting]
A few days back I had the opportunity to meet up with some school, college and university students. I asked them about Pakistan-India relations and, sadly, all of these students believed that people living in other countries, especially India, were the enemies of Pakistan. A grade seven student belonging to a private school in Lahore said that she loved her country and hated all enemy countries, especially India. I asked her why she held such a firm opinion that other countries, particularly India, were enemy countries and she replied confidently that it was all written in her textbooks and that her teachers also say so. When she was asked to point out specifically where it was written, she failed to do so. However, her assertions could not be rejected fully.
While discussing with educationists we find that they, too, say our textbooks carry content that implicitly implies that India and western countries are enemy countries. Many of the educationists sitting on the boards and bodies assigned the task of setting up the curricula religiously believe that such textbooks should be taught in schools, colleges and universities to develop Islamised or traditional citizenry. They believe that Islamisation and various forms of traditionalism are the only solution to Pakistan’s problems, even to terrorism and violence.
In 2012, a nongovernmental organisation released a research report in English and Urdu languages on Religious Discrimination in Education Policy and Syllabus, including specimens from Punjab textbooks. The report claimed that the curriculum and education policy in Punjab specifically, and throughout Pakistan generally, disregards Article 22 of the Constitution “when it comes to hundreds of thousands of non-Muslim students attending schools in the country”. The study said that the content of textbooks was visibly discriminatory against non-Muslim citizens. It is a violation of Article 20 and 25 of the Constitution of Pakistan, guaranteeing religious freedom. Article 22 of the Constitution states, “No person attending any educational institution shall be required to receive religious instruction or take part in any religious ceremony or attend religious worship if such instruction, ceremony or worship relates to a religion other than his own.” However, on the other hand, Islamiat has been made a compulsory subject for all students from grades one to eight in public schools by all five education policies since 1972. The report alleges that history books are poisoning and brainwashing young minds with systematic and institutionalised lies and bigoted teachings. A class five Social Studies textbook teaches: “India is our traditional enemy and we should always keep ourselves ready to defend our beloved country from Indian aggression.”
Also, class three students are taught that, “Muhammad Ali Jinnah felt that Hindus wanted to make Muslims their slaves and since he hated slavery, he left the Congress.” In another place it says, “The Congress was actually a party of Hindus. Muslims felt that after getting freedom, Hindus would make them their slaves.”
I recently went through with some textbooks and it was really depressing to find that Pakistani textbooks cannot mention Hindus without calling them cunning, scheming, deceptive or something equally insulting. In Social Studies textbooks it is mentioned that Hindus are extremists and the eternal enemies of Islam whose culture and society are based on injustice and cruelty, while Islam delivers a message of peace and brotherhood, concepts portrayed as alien to the Hindu.
I believe that biased material in textbooks is promoting prejudice, bigotry and discrimination towards other religions and nations. Non-Muslims are addressed as kafirs (infidels) in textbooks along with statements like “heaven is only for Muslims”. Other religions are portrayed as false and their believers as antagonists. Many history scholars have mentioned in their writings (and I agree with them) that Pakistani textbooks have preached falsehoods, hatred and bigotry against minorities and, so, unless we start a process of settling curriculum and textbook debates in the political arena, we cannot end disquiet within the curriculum and textbooks. Of course, universities should support this process by conducting independent research, for it will help in eliminating the domination of so-called experts and consultants of the curriculum and textbook reform debate.
However, other educationists believe that salient features of the Constitution of Pakistan should be made part of the curriculum of schools, colleges and universities. They feel the need for revising the civic education syllabus and expanding it to inculcate the rule of law and responsible and active citizenship in the youth. The curriculum should be revised after every four or five years and necessary changes should be made to upgrade it in accordance with the fast changing world, especially in the fields of science and technology.
The biased material in our syllabi is one of the major aspects for growing religious intolerance and extremism. It is in contradiction to the Constitution of Pakistan. Any material considered ‘inflammatory’ or ‘discriminatory’ to religious minorities should be removed from the syllabus. Unless and until young minds are encouraged to develop critical thinking and the willingness and ability to research and reach for the truth and facts, a country’s national ethos cannot become progressive with social justice and economic development of the citizen as the primary priorities.
The writer is a social and political activist based in Lahore ands can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org