History books contain major distortions: SDPI
By Waqar Gillani
LAHORE: Pakistani history textbooks contain major distortions that foster an “artificial identity and ideology” on the basis that Muslims and Hindus are enemies, the former righteous and the latter conniving, deceptive and cruel, says a report by the Sustainable Development Policy Institute.
According to a brief of the report - The Subtle Subversion-The State of Curricula and Textbooks in Pakistan - compiled by AH Nayyar and Ahmed Salim, the Pakistan Studies, History, Civics and Urdu textbooks portray Hindus as backward and superstitious, burning their widows and wives. They portray Brahmins as inherently cruel, asserting their power over the weak, especially Muslims and Shuddras.
In Social Studies classes, students are taught that Islam brought peace, equality, and justice to the subcontinent and only through Islam could the sinister ways of Hindus be held in check. “In Pakistani textbooks ‘Hindu’ rarely appears in a sentence without the use of adjectives ‘conniving’ or ‘manipulative’,” says the report.
The report gives examples of certain books containing inaccuracies. In ‘Social Studies’ for class VIII (Punjab Textbook Board, Lahore), the account of the ‘Muslim World’ is not correct historically or geographically. “The child is quite likely to gather from the phrase ‘the Muslim world’ that a particular place in the world is called the Muslim world. The book has chapters titled ‘Mountains of the Muslim world’, ‘Seas of the Muslim world’ ... Muhammad-bin-Qasim is declared the first Pakistani citizen.”
Schoolbooks are “full of errors and false statements” about the struggle for independence and the Two Nation Theory, says the report. “The history in these books is claimed as an unpunctured and smooth fabric and presented in religious terms, ie, Hindus versus Muslims, and no economic, historical, social or political causes given. The Two Nation Theory is justified and all history of mutual co-existence denied. For example, all resistance in 1857 (War of Independence) is claimed for Muslims whereas the Hindus and Sikhs were also a part of it.”
The report says Civics textbooks carry on with many of the faults of social studies in that there is no coherent order of the contents. “The ideological content is immense and throughout, the Two Nation Theory is presented as the basis of Pakistan and the economic and political factors that led to the creation of Pakistan are ignored.”
The story of Partition is described with “self-serving half-truths”, says the report. “The authors of Mutala-i-Pakistan (class IX-X, NWFP Textbook Board, Peshawar) state that after the establishment of Pakistan ‘the Hindus and Sikhs created a day of doom for the Muslims in East Punjab’.”
The report points out that the Muslims were responsible for similar atrocities against Hindus and the Sikhs in West Punjab and Sindh. “Communal killing on a large scale took place in Rawalpindi in Feb-March 1947, termed as the rape of Rawalpindi. It was the work of Muslims, the Sikhs being victims. A more recent book repeats it in different words, again omitting the parallel atrocities committed by the Muslims of West Punjab and Sindh on Sikhs and Hindus.”
The report notes that the Objectives Resolution of 1949 is presented uncritically, “even though it took sovereignty away from the people and, quite contrary to (Muhammad Ali) Jinnah’s views, made a move toward a theocratic state; this should be taught critically and not as ‘the truth’.”
The report says there were major themes and ideas omitted from schoolbooks “since they did not fit the ideological straitjacket in which the young Pakistani mind was sought to be confined. Several authors have identified how the writing of history has been systematically distorted to foster an artificial identity and ideology. The entire focus of this effort is directed towards proving the historical differences, enmities and differences between Muslims and Hindus and the righteousness of the Muslims as opposed to the cunning, deceit and cruelty of Hindus.”
“In his brilliant study on the murder of history in Pakistani textbooks, KK Aziz has provided the reader with the major inaccuracies, distortions, exaggerations and slants to be found in each officially prepared and prescribed textbook and in a representative selection of private commercial publications which are in wide use as textbooks. In his thorough and fascinating post-mortem of 66 Pakistan Studies and History textbooks, he has compiled an extensive list of errors they contained. Rubina Saigol’s analysis of Pakistani educational policies and curriculum reveals the way in which the nation state’s ideologies are realised in actual textual practice. In her words, this led to an exploration of the translation of official policies into action at the level of text production. Mubarak Ali, AH Nayyar, Khurshid Hasnain, Pervez Hoodbhoy and Tariq Rahman have also looked upon the enforcement of distortion in History and Social Studies textbooks. For Tariq Rahman, history is mutilated in textbooks to construct a mind-set that serves the broader polities of state.”
The reports says Pakistani textbooks during the 1950s and 1960s contained detailed and at times appreciative accounts of the ancient Hindu history and culture. All books started with the ancient civilizations of Moenjodaro, Harappa and Taxila, narrated indigenous mythologies without bias and recounted the grandeur of the early Hindu and Budhist kingdoms. “Some of them were even occasionally critical of the Muslim heroes also.”
According to the SDPI, the process of “negative change” had started from day one. “As early as November 1947, the government held a conference of educationists to lay down guidelines for future educational policies ... even in the life of Jinnah, the resolution of the Pakistan Educational Conference recommended the adoption of Islamic ideology as the basis of education.”
The report states that textbooks during the Ayub era were balanced between traditionalists and modernists, but Yahya Khan’s educational policy was more receptive to Islamic interests.
“The curricula and textbooks of Bhutto’s new Pakistan emerged through the dismemberment of the state. Because the Two-Nation Theory came under attack, there was an over-emphasis on the Two-Nation Theory in the form of the Ideology of Pakistan and on finding the roots of the Pakistani nation in the neighbouring lands to the west, again based on religion. The Ideology of Pakistan was the focal point in the objectives of Bhutto’s Education Policy.
“Zia-ul-Haq started the process of Islamisation in full measure. The textbooks continued to lay even greater stress on the Islamic perspective of historical events. The new education policy was presented as a five-year programme. It listed nine national aims of education. The first four highlighted Zia’s political agenda of Islam. The phrase ‘Ideology of Pakistan’ was installed with vigour and all the textbooks were re-written to reassert the Islamic orientation of Pakistani nationalism according to Gen Zia’s Socio-political concepts.”
According to the report, one of the major problems with this method, “which relegates the anti-colonial experience as secondary to the communal question,” is that the Pakistani student never learns the meaning of his colonial past and its vestiges, “which continue to dominate his life even today in the form of an elite class of civil and military bureaucracy, landlords and comprador capitalists”.
The report concludes that the growth of intolerance, fundamentalism and extremism is strengthened by curricula and textbooks in public schools. The public school system has a “fundamental weakness in that critical thinking, analysis and difference of opinion is not allowed to be developed as a natural activity in learning”.
The report is part of the SDPI’s Civil Society Initiative in Curricula and Textbooks Reform project.