Emptying our cup

According to the standards set by our textbooks, a good student is not one who is hardworking and honest but one who knows the number of prayers in a day and the number of prophets sent by God to this world

Emptying our cup

Learning is important but equally important is unlearning, especially in the case of Pakistan where students are taught things that are untrue, which acts as a barrier to learning the truth. Experts believe that, in the modern world, our success depends not on how quickly we learn but on how quickly we unlearn. Going through a survey conducted by the British Council Pakistan, one notices some disturbing realities about the direction of the Pakistani polity. The survey reports that more Pakistani youth would prefer Islamic law or military rule than democracy and approval ratings for the military were about 70 percent compared to just 13 percent for the government. The survey points towards a pessimistic, disenchanted and conservative young generation of Pakistan. The findings of such reports should not be any surprise as the majority of the youth interviewed for the survey belonged to the middle-class — the most conservative segment in Pakistan, as the report said about them.

The question is: what brought us to this stage? Is this trend going to halt at some stage or otherwise? I found the answer to this question in another study report, ‘Education Vs Fanatic Literacy’, published by the National Commission of Justice and Peace (NCJP), on the hate content in textbooks used in Punjab and Sindh. First, this report confirms that the trend of sharia and military support is not going to stop in the near future and, second, it substantiates my opinion that in Pakistan the challenge is not to learn but to unlearn what has already been learnt. People who are not aware of the dynamics of Pakistani society and the indoctrination carried out here based on the ideology of Pakistan, think that education is the solution to our problems but I consider the education imparted by Pakistani textbooks as part of the problem.

The books Pakistani children are taught with in schools are not aimed at educating them and making them responsible human beings but at making them ostensibly good Muslims, thus feeding children with the notion that any person who is not a good Muslim cannot be a good human being. This notion naturally puts the non-Muslim communities at the receiving end of their prejudice. According to the standards set by our textbooks, a good student is not one who is hardworking and honest but one who knows the number of prayers in a day and the number of prophets sent by God to this world.

When I recall my school days, Hindus and Jews were my sworn enemies as implied in the schoolbooks I read, even though I had not seen any. In Pakistan, Christians work as sweepers and cleaners and so we were told not to shake hands with them or take any food from them, thus making me believe as a child that all Christians in the world were sweepers and dirty. I did not know what Ahmedis and Barelvis believed in but I was told that they were not good people either. All that I saw and experienced through the teaching of my school was religion and hatred. It felt like we were bowls that were constantly being filled with hatred. I was growing up with a negative and twisted personality like millions of others in Pakistan. I did not know how to love but I surely knew how to hate — to hate anyone who is not a Muslim. This madness is not limited to public schools only. In the Rimsha Masih case, a child who was accused of blasphemy in Islamabad by a mullah, the young boys who were at the forefront of the protests came not from the huts where Afghan refugees live but from a prestigious private school system.

With regard to the above-mentioned report, renowned educationist Dr A H Nayyar spoke at a function about how a story lesson was dropped by the central textbook board a decade and a half ago. The story was about a day in a working class couple’s life where both were professionals — when they came home, the wife would cook while the husband would wash the dishes. “How could it be possible that a husband washes dishes?” was the board’s objection. According to them, it would have a negative impact on the students who, they believed, might very likely lose respect for their fathers.

Some more examples of the hate material collected from textbooks by NCJP are stated as follows. In class 10’s subject Pakistan Studies, a lesson titled ‘Creation of Pakistan’, page 16, on lines between four to seven reads, “In this regard Hindus tried to impose restrictions on Muslims’ religion, started making noise outside the mosques. Muslims had their jobs closed on them. Hindus tried to replace Urdu with Hindi in schools and forced Muslims to worship Gandhi’s statue. Muslim children were asked to put tilka (mark worn on the forehead as a representation of Hinduism). They were forced to chant the Bande-Matrum anthem, which maintained incitement against Muslims.” The subject of Social Studies for class 8th’s lesson ‘The United Nations’, page 95, line 11 reads, “Most non-Muslim nations of the world have always been against the Muslims.” Class 8, subject Urdu, lesson ‘Freedom movement of Palestine’ page 51, lines four to six reads, “You must be thinking what Zionism is? It is the International Jewish Organisation aimed to occupy the whole Arab territories and establish an empire from Rome to the Persian Gulf.”

These are just a few examples of the hate content filling the textbooks that Pakistani children are taught. If, after all this being poured into their minds, we expect them to favour democracy over dictatorship and sharia law, we are either naïve or idiots. K K Aziz in his book The Murder of History argues that textbooks supported military rule in Pakistan, promoted hatred for religious minorities, glorified wars and distorted the pre-1947 history of Pakistan. That is why I personally do not buy the argument that the majority of Pakistanis are moderates. If they were truly moderates, they would have stood up against this madness long ago. Their silence means consent.


The writer is a freelance journalist and can be reached at kaharzalmay@yahoo.com