PREACHING BIGOTRY IN TEXTBOOKS
Intro: In the past few decades, social studies textbooks in Pakistan have been used as locations to articulate the hatred that Pakistani policy makers have attempted to inculcate towards their Hindu neighbours.
I have visited Pakistan several times, trying to understand the divergent histories of peoples divided by lines drawn by foreigners on maps. Half a century later, how do those people view their newly created country?
Almost two decades ago, in 1997, I began my research in Pakistan and collected social studies textbooks and curriculum materials, visited schools and talked to students. Now over 15 years have passed. Though there was a supposed curriculum reform in 2006 responding to the post 9/11 criticism of the jihadi rhetoric that predominates the social studies curriculum, very little of the Islamised discourses in the textbooks have been modified and certainly none of the inherent anti-Indiaism has been deleted since such negative narratives were systematically and pedantically installed during the era of the military rule of General Zia-ul-Haq in the 1980’s. Ultimately, anti-Hindu narratives justify the creation of the country.
History is a field that is rarely free from controversy and in the Subcontinent the differences in perspective are profound. The results of my research in Pakistan were part of the dissertation for my PhD, titled: “Curriculum as Destiny: Forging National Identities in India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh” that compared secondary level social studies textbooks in these three countries who share thousands of years of history but view those events and historical characters through very different, often oppositional perspectives. The book resulting from my research in Pakistan was published by Rupa Publication in 2003: Islamisation of Pakistani Social Studies Textbooks.
All students in Pakistan are required to take courses called Pakistan Studies and must pass standardised tests based on that curriculum. Pakistan Studies is a compulsory subject in all secondary schools and colleges. In general, the curriculum is a composite of patriotic discourses, justification of the Two-Nation Theory, and polemics about the superiority of Islamic principals over Hinduism.
Many students in Pakistan not only dislike this required course, but openly mock it. A student at a women’s college in Lahore said “We’ve covered the Pak Studies material year after year, it’s just the same Lucknow Pact, Two-Nation Theory. . . we don’t have to study for the test, the Ideology of Pakistan has been drilled into us.”
Since the time of One Unit, all textbooks in Pakistan must be approved by the Curriculum Wing of the Ministry of Education in Islamabad after which they were published by the provincial textbook boards. Since the 2006 curriculum reforms, the publication of the textbooks was meted out to non-governmental publishers.
In 2013, AH Nayyar (a Pakistani physicist and Nuclear Activist) wrote a report Continuing Flaws in the New Curriculum and Textbooks After Reform, a “study conducted for the Jinnah Institute Islamabad”
Nayyar writes that one of the major problems with the textbooks is that they base Pakistan’s raison d’etre “on the religious identity, little realising that defining a nation on the basis of one religious identity can cause alienation among Pakistanis of other faiths, thus negating the nation building process. It also entails hate-filled narration, distortion of history, lies, etc.” Nayyar cites the problem with the textbooks published under the new curriculum guides is that they still teach Islamic theology as part of the regular curriculum. Nayyar points out that this is actually against the constitution of Pakistan, as it forces non-Muslims to learn about Islam in their social studies and language classes that narrates the history of Pakistan exclusively through the lens of the Two-Nation Theory inherently calls for the vilification of the Hindu-other.
The Pakistani Studies textbooks authored during General Zia-ul-Haq’s military rule between 1977 and 1988 are still in use in most schools. They are decidedly anti-democratic and particularly enshrined in the narratives, is a heavy dose of anti-Indiaism.
Western media woke up to the harsh fact about textbooks only after the deadly terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001. Yet, for decades, objective scholars, such as Nayyar and Pervez Hoodbhoy have warned that the textbooks in Pakistan were fomenting hatred and encouraging fundamentalism, have promoted a radically restrictive brand of Islamic exclusivism, and exported that perspective to other nations as in the case of Pakistani born Taliban and their negative impact on Afghani society.
In March 2001, I authored an article in The Friday Times, a newspaper published in Lahore. I warned of the imminent blowback of America’s foreign policies in South Asia in the 1980’s. In that article “Things That Go Bump in the Night: Is the Taliban Coming to Town?” I wrote: “[M]ost young men in Pakistan would rather marry an educated woman and work in the Info-Tech industry than fight the infidels. They would rather play cricket on the weekend in an empty lot than plot suicide missions into Kashmir. The average Pakistani is not a fundamentalist. Far more Pakistanis fear the militant Mullahs and their debilitating impact on society.
The vast majority of educated Pakistanis dream of a prosperous economy, democratic institutions, a safe future for their children—boys and girls. They want peace with India, peace with the world. They are secular and sophisticated. And they are sick of sacrificing everything for Kashmir. They say—‘Fifty years is long enough. Let’s get on with the business of nation-building’. The growing political clout of the militant fundamentalists is far more frightening. The gender-biased dogmatic rhetoric that revels in a culture of fatwas, hudood and blasphemy laws, the self-appointed sectarian clerics that depreciate diplomacy, the unemployed, well armed young men pouring out of the Deeni Madaris, hunting heretics in the neighborhood... scary indeed.”
Unfortunately, six months later, in September 2001, my dire predictions of Mujahideen blowback became front-page news, after which the Pakistani Government finally promised to take some action, to tone down the jihadi rhetoric that characterised not only Islamic educational institutions but the government sponsored social studies curriculum. But as can be seen by the fledgling efforts, the 2006 curriculum reform had very little impact on Zia’s Islamisation campaign.
In the minds of a generation of Pakistanis, indoctrinated by the “Ideology of Pakistan” are lodged fragments of hatred and suspicion. The story manufactured to further Zia’s “Be Pakistani/Buy Pakistani” worldview is presented through a myopic lens of hyper-nationalism and the politicised use of Islam. According to Dr Inayat Magsi, a Sindhi psychiatrist, “[When Civics classes teach negative values] the result is a xenophobic and paranoid acceptance of authoritarianism and the denial of cultural differences and regional ethnic identities.” Pakistan Studies textbooks are an active site for negatively representing India and othering the Subcontinent’s Hindu past. See this long quote from the Pakistani journalist, Najum Mushtaq, (From: “Ideological Crossroads”, The New International: June 10, 2001)
“If it is not anti-Indianism, then in what other terms could we possibly render Pakistani-Muslim nationalism? [….] The ‘ideology of Pakistan’ as defined to students at every school and college in the country is nothing except anti-Indianism. In every walk of life in Pakistan—from academia to journalism, from sports to bureaucracy—a vast majority of people has been inculcated with fantastic anti-India notions. [….] Phrases like the “Hindu mentality” and “devious Indian psyche” are part of the daily military talk. [….] Anti-Indianism, in short, runs deep in Pakistani state and society.”
Yvette C Rosser (The writer also known as Ram Rani is an American Scholar who writes on Hinduism)