The Idea of India
The Hindus Live In Small And Dark Houses Or Finding The Roots Of War In Textbooks – The Pakistan Episode

The minds of children are usually shut inside prison houses, so that they become incapable of understanding people who have different languages and customs. This causes us to grope after each other in darkness, to hurt each other in ignorance, to suffer from the worst form of blindness. Religious missionaries themselves have contributed to this evil; in the name of brotherhood and in the arrogance of sectarian pride they have created misunderstanding. They make this permanent in their textbooks, and poison the minds of children.

Rabindranath Tagore “To Teachers” in Chakravarty, A (ed) The Tagore Reader, page 216

[Education]…stood not only for enlightenment but also authority…In other words, it was an ideological effect that made both the propagators and the beneficiaries of education regard the latter as a purely cultural transaction and ignore that aspect of it which related directly to power…At one level the content was culture, and at another, power.

[E]ducation related to colonial dominance not only as a means of persuasion, but as an arm of its coercive apparatus as well.

Ranajit Guha, An Indian Historiography of India, page 15

Our quest for peace, justice and reconciliation often begins in the gilded corridors of diplomacy, or the cynical bed chambers of the politicians. But there are some significant reasons to believe that these are not the venues by which South Asia will overcome regional pathologies and console its many communities of suffering. For by the time our citizens have ‘succeeded’ into the chambers of power – be they political, parliamentary or military, their world view is already too deeply colored by education and societal prejudices instituted and constructed by distorted and ahistorical ideas and histories. Their minds filled with false historical constructions and emotional nationalist imaginations, our ‘leaders’ are in fact educated to sustain and maintain the regional political and conflict deadlocks rather than discover new and creative ways to break them.

Instead, it would seem that we would do well to instead begin in the moldy, dank, dark classrooms of the nation’s ignored and underfunded education institutions where the foundations of suspicion, fear, loathing and anger are laid. The sheer simplicities and distortions that taint our children’s books would be reason enough to do this. But I would also add that our children’s education lack a focus on matters of reconciliation, historical re-consideration and revisionism, a need for a sense of identity and culture that transcends nationalist, ethnicity, creed, class, caste and color. Our education systems remain deeply provincial and in the most insidious and distorting ways.

Children’s textbooks remain married to ethnic glorification, nationalist triumphalism and divisive re-casting of histories along religious and ethnic lines. Those raised on such an education, and who later proceed to occupy the gilded chambers of power – political, military and economic, remain in the fear, suspicion and hatred of ‘the other. It is not just about the content of our children’s text books but also about the the ideas and ideals that inform the design, institution and execution of education policy. Much of these remain similar to, if not unthinking adoptions of, education policies and objectives defined and designed under the British colonial system for the ‘benefit’ of a Indian native class being reared to serve and protect the Empire and to see nothing but benefit and beneficence in it.

At first glance this may seem rather strange to say some seventy years after independence but the fact remains that modern education in South Asia is still less about creativity, experimentation, culture, exposition, exploration and questioning, and more about ideology, coercion and control. The latter were precisely the goals of British education policies and goals for ‘natives’ in India.

In his book An Indian Historiography Of India: A 19th Century Agenda And Its Implications the historian Ranajit Guha elaborated on the intents and implications of the colonial historiography and education project.

[Education] stood not only for enlightenment but also authorityâ. In other words, it was an ideological effect that made both the propagators and the beneficiaries of education regard the latter as a purely cultural transaction and ignore that aspect of it which related directly to power…At one level the content was culture, and at another, power.

Guha, R An Indian Historiography of India, page 15

Guha continues and points out that the system was instituted with the goal of producing ‘native’ youths for participation at the lowest levels of the colonial bureaucracy. Its emphasis on the use of English, and its focus on a British historiography of India, – one that celebrated the beneficence of the presence of the British, was designed to culturally, ideologically and socially isolate the educated ‘native’ from the ordinary Indian. Guha quotes Warren Hastings, India’s first Governor-General, who wrote in a letter to Lord North, that:

If…the English language could be introduced into the transaction of business…it would be attended with convenience and advantage to Government and no distress or disadvantage to the natives. To quality themselves for employment, they would be obliged to study English instead of Persian. If schools were established in the districts…a few years would produce a set of young men qualified for business, whose example and success would spread, and graft the institutions gradually into the manners of the peoples.’

The system was designed produce collaborators, mediators and apologists for Empire. It instilled in the minds and souls of the educated ‘native’ a sense of his superiority to the rest, and the necessity of the coercive and unjust rule that prevailed over the land. I would argue that post-colonial education systems in South Asia have retained the intent of this system even if they have discarded the subject matter. That is, the new owners of power, the post-colonial elite made up of those very few ‘natives’ educated in the very colonial systems they overthrew, knew of no other way to structure education and hence simply continued it. After all, were they not living examples of it’s excellence?

Even a cursory examination of India’s and Pakistan’s elite institutions reveals their long colonial history and heritage. They still predominantly cater to the children of landed, military, political and bureaucratic elite of the nation. They may have substituted one set of histories (colonial, euro-centric) and readings for another (nationalist, sectarian) because the underlying objectives of their education centers on the same political objective to produce collaborators, mediators and apologists for political power. As Guha summarizes with the utmost of clarity:

Indeed, what most of the 19th century beneficiaries of …[colonial]…education imbibed from it as a code of power was unquestioning servility to the ruling power.

Ranajit Guha, An Indian Historiography of India, page 18

Our intent to educate, certainly the formal, government supported structures of education, view the children of it’s citizenry as fodder for its ideological and political agenda. The idea that education is a process of state-centric indoctrination of nationalist and sectarian ideology, and a heavy handed contortion of all social and historical subjects, is a direct inheritance of education policies designed and instituted during the British colonial control of India. Culture married to power.

And this is most apparent than on the pages of Pakistan’s Social Studies and Pakistan Studies textbooks, most of which were being taught in her schools up till at least 2002 if not later. In a study commissioned by the Sustainable Development Policy Institute in Islamabad, titled The Subtle Subversion:The State of Curricula and Textbooks in Pakistan (direct link to .pdf file), the authors identified a long list of what can only be called hate material taught to high school children in Pakistan.

It makes for sobering reading that I share with you here.

  • Hindus worship in temples which are very narrow and dark places, where they worship idols. Only one person can enter the temple at a time. In our mosques, on the other hand, all Muslims can say their prayers together. – Muasherati Ulum for Class V, Punjab Textbook Board, Lahore, 1996, p 109
  • This division of men [among Aryans] into different castes is the worst example of tyranny in the history of the world. In course of time the Aryans began to be called the Hindus. – Social Studies Class VI, Punjab Textbook Board, Lahore, March 2002: p 59
  • The Hindus lived in small and dark houses. Child marriage was common in those days. Women were assigned a low position in society. In case the husband of a woman died, she was burnt alive with his dead body. This was called ‘sati’. … The killing of shudras was not punished, but the murder of a Brahman was a serious crime. … However, the people of low caste were not allowed to learn this language. The caste system had made their life miserable.” – Social Studies Class VI, Punjab Textbook Board, Lahore, March 2002: p 67
  • Muslim children of India wear shalwar kameez or shirt and pajama and Hindu children wear dhoti also. – Social Studies Class VI, Punjab Textbook Board, Lahore, p 79
  • Hindus thought that there was no country other than India, nor any people other than the Indians, nor did anyone else possess any knowledge. – Social Studies Class VIII, Punjab Textbook Board, Lahore, March 2002, p 82.
  • …but Hindus very cunningly succeeded in making the British believe that the Muslims were solely responsible for the [1857] rebellion. – Social Studies Class VIII, Punjab Textbook Board, Lahore, March 2002, p 90
  • Nehru report exposed the Hindu mentality. – Social Studies, Class VIII – Punjab Textbook Board, Lahore. March 2002, p 102
  • The Quaid saw through the machinations of the Hindus. – Social Studies Class-VII, Punjab Textbook Board, Lahore, ?, p 51
  • The religion of the Hindus did not teach them good things — Hindus did not respect women. – Muasherati Ulum for Class IV, Punjab Textbook Board, Lahore, 1995, p 81
  • The Hindus always desired to crush the Muslims as a nation. Several attempts were made by the Hindus to erase the Muslim culture and civilization. Hindi-Urdu controversy, shudhi and sanghtan movements are the most glaring examples of the ignoble Hindu mentality. – M. Ikram Rabbani and Monawar Ali Sayyid, An Introduction to Pakistan studies, The Caravan Book House, Lahore, 1995, p 12
  • Hindu pundits were jealous of Al-Beruni. Since they could not compete against Al-Beruni in knowledge, they started calling him a magician. – Social Studies Class VIII, Punjab Textbook Board, Lahore, March 2002, p 82
  • The Sultans of Delhi were tolerant in religious matters. They never forced the non-Muslims to convert to Islam. The Hindus embraced Islam due to the kind treatment of the Muslims. The caste system of the Hindus had made the life of the common people miserable. They were treated like animals. Nobody could claim equality with Brahmins. – Social Studies Class VI, Punjab Textbook Board, Lahore, March 2002: p 109
  • The Hindus who have always been opportunists cooperated with the English. – Social Studies Class VI, Punjab Textbook Board, Lahore, March 2002: p 141
  • The Hindus praised the British rule and its blessings in their speeches. The Hindus had the upper hand in the Congress and they established good relations with the British. This party tried its best to safeguard the interests of the Hindus. Gradually it became purely a Hindu organization. Most of the Hindu leaders of the Congress were not prepared to tolerate the presence of the Muslims in the sub-continent. They demanded that the Muslims should either embrace Hinduism or leave the country. The party was so close to the Government that it would not let the Government do any work as would be of benefit to the Muslims. The partition of Bengal can be quoted as an example. – Social Studies Class VI, Punjab Textbook Board, Lahore, March 2002: p 143
  • …but Hindus very cunningly succeeded in making the British believe that the Muslims were solely responsible for the [1857] rebellion. – Social Studies Class VIII, Punjab Textbook Board, Lahore, March 2002, p 90
  • The British confiscated all lands [from the Muslims] and gave them to Hindus. – Social Studies Class VIII, Punjab Textbook Board, Lahore, March 2002, p 91 [This is stated despite the fact that all the large feudal lords in the part that later formed Pakistan were Muslims]
  • Therefore in order to appease the Hindus and the Congress, the British announced political reforms. Muslims were not eligible to vote. Hindus voter never voted for a Muslim, therefore, … – Social Studies Class VIII, Punjab Textbook Board, Lahore, March 2002, p 94-95
  • Hindus declared the Congress rule as the Hindu rule, and started to unleash terror on Muslims – Social Studies, Class VIII – Punjab Textbook Board, Lahore. March 2002, p 104
  • At the behest of the government [during the Congress rule], Hindu goondas (criminals, thugs) started killing Muslims and burning their property. – Social Studies, Class VIII – Punjab Textbook Board, Lahore. March 2002, p 104-105
  • The British, with the assistance of the Hindus, adopted a cruel policy of mass exodus against the Muslims to erase them as a nation. The British adopted a policy of large scale massacre (mass extermination) against the Muslims The Muslim population of the Muslim minority provinces faced atrocities of the Hindu majority. [The Muslims] were not allowed to profess their religion freely. Hindu nationalism was being imposed upon Muslims and their culture. All India Congress turned into a pure Hindu organization. The Congress was striving very hard to project the image of united India, which was actually aimed at the extermination of the Muslims from the Indian society. The two Hindu organizations [Congress and Mahasabha] were determined to destroy the national character of the Muslims to dominate and subjugate them perpetually. – National Curriculum English (Compulsory) for Class XI-XII, March 2002, pp 6, 13, 31, 45, 7, 25, 8, 46, 48, 50
  • While the Muslims provided all type of help to those wishing to leave Pakistan, the people of India committed cruelties against the Muslims (refugees). They would attack the buses, trucks, and trains carrying the Muslim refugees and they were murdered and looted. – National Early Childhood Education Curriculum (NECEC), Ministry of Education, Government of Pakistan, March 2002, p 85
  • The Hindus in Pakistan were treated very nicely when they were migrating as opposed to the inhuman treatment meted out to the Muslim migrants from India. – Social Studies Class- IV, Punjab Textbook Board, Lahore, p. 85
  • After 1965 war India conspired with the Hindus of Bengal and succeeded in spreading hate among the Bengalis about West Pakistan and finally attacked on East Pakistan in December 71, thus causing the breakup of East and West Pakistan. – Social Studies (in Urdu) Class- V, Punjab Textbook Board, Lahore, p 112
  • Hindu has always been an enemy of Islam – Urdu Class V, Punjab Textbook Board, Lahore, March 2002, p 108

The dismaying simplicities and inanities are too many to list here. Suffice it to say that since the 1970s the children of Pakistan have been subjected to a systemic and comprehensive ‘poisoning’ of their minds when it comes to matters Indian, Hindu and the country’s Islamic heritage. The impact this has on the minds of the citizenry was succinctly summed by the writers of the report itself when they concluded that:

We have outlined…some of the main themes that we believe have been selectively and systematically omitted from our textbooks, mostly for narrow sighted ideological reasons and not for academic or pedagogical reasons. We have also attempted … to identify the specific outcome of such omissions in terms of the mindset and worldview that they generate by the failure to expose student to a humanizing and liberalizing intellectual atmosphere. We believe that the growth of intolerance, fundamentalism and extremism while having many other fundamental sources is however strengthened by such curricula and textbooks, operative in the very large public school system. (page 77)

Our historians have been ridiculed and abused, as in the case of the brilliant K.K. Aziz, author of the dismaying The Murder of History: A Critique Of History Textbooks Used In Pakistan, who was hounded into exile. K.K. Aziz wrote voluminously about the pathologies of history education in the country, the easy and distorting marriage between nationalism, sectarianism and education policy. I will write more about him in a separate post. Even today, brilliant and creative historians such as Ayesha Jalal face indifference at best, denigration at worse. One cannot deny the influence of text books, particularly in a nation with a long legacy of limited education. The few that learn, are precisely the few that will move into the seats of economic, political, military and bureaucratic power. It is precisely they, the few with the limited education, who pose the greatest danger since they pose in the seats of power.

In her book The Clash Within: Democracy, Religious Violence and India’s Future the American philosopher Martha Nussbaum argued that:

The ability to accept difference – difference of religion, of ethnicity, of race, of sexuality – requires, first, the ability to accept something about oneself; that one is not lord of the world, that one is both adult and child, that no all-embracing collectivity will keep one safe from the vicissitudes of life., that others outside oneself have a reality. This ability requires, in turn, the cultivation of a moral imagination that sees reality in other human beings, that does not see other human beings as mere instruments of one’s own power or threats to that power.

Martha Nussbaum, The Clash Within, page 336

And this ‘moral imagination’ is cultivated through an education system that, as Nussbaum elaborates in her work Cultivating Humanity: A Classical Defense Of Reform In Liberal Education, encourages students to develop three crucial characteristics as human beings and citizens.

  • To have ‘…the capacity for critical examination of oneself and one’s traditions – for living what…we may call “the examined life.”‘ (page 9)
  • To develop the ‘…ability to see [oneself] not simply as citizens of some local regions or groups but also and above all, as human beings bound to all other human beings by ties of recognition and concern.’ (page 10).
  • To possess ‘…a narrative imagination…[i.e.] the ability to think what it might be like to be in the shoes of a person different from oneself, to be an intelligent reader of that person’s story, and to understand the emotions and wishes and desires that someone so placed might have.’ (pages 10,11)

These are precisely the values and ideals absent from education programs in India and Pakistan. Instead, our citizens are raised to eye each other with fear, loathing and suspicion. The idea of the other as the singular enemy, distorted in its hatred of ‘us’ and determined to do anything in its power to destroy ‘us’ is ingrained into our minds from an early age. At ages when children are still grasping to understand the fundamentals of Newtonian physics, they are subjected to historical, sectarian, and political indoctrination that they can neither comprehend nor question. In fact, they are encouraged not to question at all. And perhaps that is why this indoctrination must take place at so early an age – an age where critical thought could develop but instead unquestioning obedience and obeisance is encouraged.

The fact remains that in both India and Pakistan our child soldiers are being prepared as we speak. They, with their distortions and prejudices, will eventually man the corridors of diplomacy, politics, military and the citizenry. They will carry within them the lessons of their youth, the unexamined prejudices and hatred of their adolescence. To imagine that their distorted world views, developed under the authority of a state and its adult voices, will not color their engagement with ‘the other’ is to be naive at best, irresponsible at worse. It is a world view apparent in the language of our military and our politicians today – bent as they are on working with caricatures and generalizations that convince them that only barbarians and killers live on the other side of the borders.

Its time to read new books.

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