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Smokers’ Corner: Stories of violence

Updated June 19, 2016


Illustration by Abro
Illustration by Abro

Recently, while browsing through the shelves of Boston’s famous Harvard Book Store, I found a book on Pakistan which was first published in 1950. Although the name of the author was missing, the book was published in Lahore in December, 1950. It is a curious little book which explains Pakistan as a young country made up of various ethnic groups, whose Muslim members got together to create a Muslim-majority country to safeguard the economic and political interests of South Asia’s Muslims from the majority-rule of Hindus in India.

Interestingly, the book then goes on to suggest that Pakistan was also created to safeguard the interests of South Asian Christians and lower-caste Hindus of India who were also ‘under threat from upper-caste Hindu majoritarianism and nationalism ... ’

I compared this with a 1992 ‘Pakistan Studies’ book in which the author went to great lengths to explain Pakistan as a theological state surrounded by enemies. In fact, the book carried a separate chapter on these ‘enemies’ which was subdivided into sections on Hindus, Christians and Jews.

Ever since 1950, much has changed in the religious and ethnic demography of Pakistan, but the country still is a multicultural entity with numerous ethnic communities, languages, Muslim sects and sub-sects.

When hate is maufactured through textbooks the results are often generational

Although the country was conceived as a Muslim-majority state, according to scholar and educationist, Prof A.H. Nayyar, the idiom of Muslim majoritarianism started gaining more currency in the country’s ethos after the 1971 East Pakistan debacle. But whereas the 1950 book explained this majoritarianism as an entirely inclusive idea, it became more exclusive after 1971.

Dr Rubina Saigol is of the view that the attempt to enforce this ethos through school textbooks began in the early 1980s. In her paper and essay ‘Radicalisation of State & Society in Pakistan’, Saigol informs that in the 1980s, the syllabus was revised and textbooks were rewritten to create a more monolithic image of Pakistan as a theocratic state and Pakistani citizens as Muslim only.

According to Saigol, this clearly tells non-Muslim students that they are excluded from the national identity.

In an extensive 2002 study, conducted by Nayyar and Dr Ahmad Salim, the following themes emerge most strongly in post-1971 history textbooks:

That Pakistan is for Muslims alone; the ideology of Pakistan is deeply interlinked with faith; and that the students should take the path of war and martyrdom. All these are then put under the umbrella of the ‘ideology of Pakistan’.

Scholars such as Ayesha Jalal have argued that the term ‘ideology of Pakistan’ is an after-thought; it was absent at the time of the creation of Pakistan in 1947.

According to her, Jinnah never used the term ‘ideology of Pakistan’. Also, for over a decade after the creation of Pakistan, the term was missing from official narratives.

Jalal informs that the phrase ‘ideology of Pakistan’ has no historical basis in the Pakistan movement. It was coined much later by those political forces that needed it to sanctify their particular brand of politics: especially those political entities who had earlier been against the creation of Pakistan because they believed Pakistan nationalism was a secular concoction.

Yet textbooks (ever since the 1980s) insist that the ideology of Pakistan was first pronounced by the Quaid. But no textbook has ever been able to cite a single reference to Jinnah using this term.

Jinnah’s speech to the Constituent Assembly on Sept 11, 1947 is completely contrary to the so-called ‘ideology of Pakistan’ as it is presented in school history books.

Some time after 1971, the subject of Indo-Pakistan history was replaced with ‘Pakistan Studies,’ with the sole purpose now was to define Pakistan as an exclusive faith-based state. The students were deprived of learning about pre-Islamic history of their region. Instead, history books now started with the Arab conquest of Sindh and swiftly jumped to the Muslim conquerors from Central Asia.

As scientist and author, Dr Pervez Hoodbhoy, has often lamented, all history in these books is along religious lines, while social, historical and economic causes are missing. Pakistanis are not told that the rise of Western powers in the last 500 years was mainly due to the advances made in education, science and culture. This rise was not based on military might alone, and certainly not on any overwhelming religious doctrine.

After 1979, the themes of war and martyrdom in textbooks became strong. In this period, history and social studies books openly eulogised these.

According to Nayyar, in Pakistan the impression one gets from textbooks is that students don’t learn history, but rather a carefully crafted collection of falsehoods.

For example, in these books, Mohammad bin Qasim is declared the first Pakistani citizen. The story of the Arabs’ arrival in Sindh is recounted as the first moment of Pakistan.

Also, a widely taught history book insists that, “Although Pakistan was created in August 1947, the present-day Pakistan has existed, as a more or less single entity, for centuries.”

A history book published in 1992 has on its cover a Muslim warrior holding a sword and charging in on a horse, and a chapter called ‘The Enemies of Islam’. This chapter too is broken into various sections that define these enemies as being Hindus, Christians and Jews.

In their study, both Nayyar and Salim conclude that one should not be surprised at the confusion among Pakistani children and youth after what they learn at school; a state of mind that they can carry well into their adult life as well.

In her paper, Dr Saigol also stretches her study by looking at similar incidents of historical distortions in India. She suggests that Indian textbooks until the 1980s, avoided the economic and cultural reasons behind the break-up of India in 1947 and saw it as being purely a communal consequence triggered by the myopic religious impulse of Muslim leaders.

Saigol also informs how Indian textbooks also ignored the Hindutva dimension of Indian nationalism. As we can now see, this dimension has gradually become a predominant aspect of the Indian identity and, interestingly, its context and tone are mirror images of the belligerence found in the post-1980s Pakistani textbooks! The opposing twins have finally met.

Perhaps, the nature of the bloodshed during the Partition of India in 1947 was such that the official narratives on both sides of the divide decided to sacrifice the truth of partition on the killing fields. Instead, they created convoluted narrations in their still on-going attempts to blame each other for the bloodshed and its lingering consequences.

Both narratives are still trying to make sure that the truth remains buried where millions of Muslims, Hindus and Sikhs slaughtered each other almost 70 years ago. As if these truths just might undo the continuing status quo of suspicion and belligerence between the two states. Something which is not good for politics, I guess.

Published in Dawn, Sunday Magazine, June 19th, 2016