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”,

from Chakravarty, A (ed) The Tagore Reader (Page 216)

JuD Grafitti Pan

Our wars, our massacres, our suspicions and fears, our prejudices and hatred, begin in the pages our of children’s textbooks.

No where is this more 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, 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 civilisation. 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” 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 organisation. 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 organisations [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 same report outlines in great detail the encouragement of religious violence, the denigration of women, the foisting of an Islamic ideology of Pakistan and other ahistorical perspectives with which the country’s children have been scared.

Professor Pervaiz Hoodbhoy has been documenting the deterioration in the educational culture of the country, in particular, the celebration of religious violence and the projection of a homogenous Islamic heritage of Pakistan, the latter at times going to levels of stupidity that defy commonsense. For example, history textbooks in Pakistan actually attempt to directly associate the ‘idea of Pakistan’ and the ‘creation of Pakistan’ to the earliest presence and arrival of Arab forces on the shores of Sindh! This inane association, in fact violent castration of the history of the region, to all that is perceived to by only ‘Islamic‘ is perhaps the underlying pathology that has scared education in the country for decades. (Please email me directly if you wish to see a copy of this report.)

The quest for peace and reconciliation often begins in the gilded corridors of diplomacy, or the cynical bed chambers of the politicians. 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.

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)

Pakistani society, from its citizens to its military, is imbued with a suspicion and fear of ‘the other’ defined as ‘the Hindu‘, the nation of whom is India. It is cultivated in their minds at an age when they are hardly able to think, and more susceptible to the perspectives and dogmatism of their adults.

It is a dogmatism, bigotry and hate that is of course mirrored across the border in India, particularly during the hideous eight years the Indian democracy was under the guidance of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). In a series of terse and critical essays, India’s Outlook magazine featured a series of articles by writers taking to task the BJP government’s attempts to re-write Indian history with a distinctly communal/sectarian bent.See for example the piece Communalisation of Education by Mridula Mukherjee and Aditya Mukherjee, or a piece by the eminent historian Irfan Habib called The Rewriting of History…

I found this last essay particularly interesting because of its focus on the treatment of the heritage and presence of Islam and Muslims in India in the National Curriculum Framework of School Education (NCERT) text books. NCERT is a technically a private body, but has close links to the Ministry of Education (MoE), with NCERT’s head being chosen by the MoE. The Supreme Court has in fact defined the NCERT back into the government and given broad authority.

I quote Habib himself:

Given its view of Muslims as utter barbarians, the Sangh Parivar is naturally uncomfortable with Muslim scientific thinkers. Alberuni, whose description of Indian sciences in the earlier part of the eleventh century was described by K.M. Panikkar as “a moment in history”, attracts the ire of the Sangh propagandists who hasten to picture him as anti-Indian, because of his remarks about Bahmagupta’s mythological explanation of the eclipses and about the Indian tendency not to accept external discoveries. As for Akbar the Mughal emperor, who occupies a particularly high place in Indian history, for his policy of tolerance, humanism and patronage of the arts, he is totally unacceptable not only as a “foreigner,” but also as the grandson of Babur, made notorious owing to the Babari Masjid. When the Indian Council of Historical Research, during its pre-RSS past, decided to observe the 450th birth anniversary of Akbar in 1992, the BJP MPs raised the matter in Parliament, one of them even describing Akbar as a “Pakistani” having been born in Umarkot (Sind).(They naturally forgot the birthplaces of L.K. Advani and the like).

Martha Nussbaum provides a detailed examination of the assault on India’s textbooks that took place under the ‘wise’ guidance of the BJP’s historians. A large number of Indian organizations and individuals challenged the distortions, bigotry and outright lies that tainted the new textbooks being made available to Indian students once the BJP had come to power. The attempts to ‘saffronize’ education in India i.e. to infuse it with the ideology of Hindutva, became a fundamental goal, with education minister Murli Manoha Joshi, a BJP politician with known links to the RSS and VHP, given the leadership of this effort.

And with an indictment that could not cut more deeply, Irfan Habib warns the Indians that:

If the BJP is to have its way, we would soon be competing with Pakistan in framing the utmost possible parochial view of the past.

And indeed, given the state of books in Pakistan today, a situation that many in its civil society are fighting to reform, there could be no worse insult or fear. Pakistan and India 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.

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, except for a handful few able to break the pattern, 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.