A student, who studies the ninth grade Pakistan Studies book of the Sindh Textbook Board for a year, will end up learning three things; a non-Muslim cannot be a Pakistani, Hindus are not to be trusted and the Fall of Dhaka was an international conspiracy.
The book begins with a chapter on the ideology of Pakistan. Rule number one of being a good citizen is: “They [the citizens] should try to lead their lives in accordance with the teachings of Islam. This requires enforcement of laws and regulations according to the Islamic Sharia.”
“Since you are a non-Muslim, you end up feeling like an outcast, an unimportant part of the society. You get that feeling that the Muslim belief is the only moral thing in the world and anything different is sinful,” says Suzanna Masih, a student from the minority community who has studied the book.
“In a lot of Pakistan Studies books, you come across the word Kafir [infidel]. I find it very derogatory.”
There is a small, three-page portion on the Fall of Dhaka in the ninth grade book. The causes include “propaganda, the role of Hindu teachers and international conspiracies”.
“Sheikh Mujibur Rehman, the leader of the Awami League Party in Bengal, propagated that Bengalis were economically deprived. He started developing secret relations with India. The All India Radio, through its programmes, created hatred in the hearts of Bengalis against the people of West Pakistan,” the book states.
“A large number of Hindu teachers were teaching in educational institutions in East Pakistan. They produced such literature which created negative thinking in the minds of Bengalis. About 10 million Hindus were living in East Pakistan. India stood at their back to protect their interests. Many Hindus acted as spies for India. Russia was against Pakistan because the latter had allowed America to establish military bases on its soil.”
The words have been played to lump together Hindus, spies and propaganda. The elections in which Sheikh Mujibur Rehman had won 55 percent of the total seats of the united Pakistan and was still denied the seat of prime minister, the non-inclusion of Bengalis in the armed forces, the disparity in industries between East and West Pakistan, and the neglect that East Pakistan had faced in terms of development despite having the largest share of exports (jute) remain conveniently absent.
If one relies on this book completely, which many students do (there is only one textbook for Pakistan Studies produced by the Sindh Textbook Board), they will end up thinking that the creation of Bangladesh was nothing but an international conspiracy. Pakistan disintegrated because—as usual—the whole world was out to get it.
In a three-page space given to Sir Syed Ahmed Khan and his role in the Pakistan Movement, it is said that he had improved relations between the Muslims and the British by writing pamphlets like the ‘Loyal Muhammadans of India and Causes of Indian Revolt’. No details about the content of the writings have been given; hence, the student fails to understand what the national hero had to say.
A look into the famous “Asbab-e-Baghawat-e-Hind”, which has now taken the form of a book, reveals that Sir Syed had vociferously opposed the conservative Muslim mindset as this, he thought, was the greatest hurdle to development. In a translation of the Bible, he had attempted to prove that Christianity was the closest religion to Islam. The book misses out important aspects of his teachings.
The book calls the Baloch “strong, brave people with deep love for Islam”. It further states that “in 1947, Balochistan decided to join Pakistan”. Historical accounts otherwise reveal that it was in the year 1948 that the Khan of Kalat had agreed to join Pakistan.
Curriculum review committee
After the passage of the 18th Amendment that grants provincial autonomy, education became a provincial subject. To review the current syllabus, a curriculum review committee was formed.
A member of the committee and chairman of the Board of Intermediate Karachi (BIEK), Anwar Ahmed Zai, thinks it is the best time for the media to highlight the drawbacks in the curriculum design so that the committee can pinpoint the glaring gaps in the textbooks to the education board.
“It is the need of the hour to limit, if not remove, words that promote religious intolerance. Pakistan Studies is a compulsory subject, unlike Islamiat which has the subject of Ethics as a substitute for the minority communities. The members of the minority communities must feel that they are equal Pakistanis,” he says.
Zai maintains that the ideology of Pakistan and history are two different things and one must not let ideology distort facts. “For instance, the Khan of Kalat had agreed to become part of Pakistan in 1948 on the basis of provincial autonomy in all matters other than finance, defence and foreign policy. One of the reasons for the unrest in Balochistan is the failure to abide by those conditions.” He condemns how the role of Hindu teachers has been highlighted in the chapter on the Fall of Dhaka. “A teacher is a cheater if he does not perform his job rightly irrespective of his race.”
“Teenage, when students are studying this book, is a period where education should aim to ignite curiosity and a thirst for knowledge. Poison in the form of education must be discouraged.”
Professor Jaffer Ahmed, chairman of the Pakistan Study Centre at the University of Karachi, is of the opinion that the contents of the book do not only discriminate against minorities, but also women. “Before the year 2004, no history book had a chapter on the Fall of Dhaka.”
During Musharraf’s era, the professor says he was part of a committee of 19 educationists, including Pervez Hoodbhoy and Mubarak Ali. They presented a research paper titled “Subtle Subversion”. “We took three or four months and discussed each and every book taught in the areas of Urdu, English, Civics and Social Studies in Pakistan. One of the recommendations in the research paper included introducing Peace Studies as a subject.”
But even though the committee expected a positive response during the government of the so-called “enlightened ruler”, the paper was never accepted. “Our books are undemocratic. If we continue teaching them to our children, they may find out the truth from other sources later on in life. Or even worse, they may never find the truth,” says Ahmed.
It is high time the authorities looked into this extremely important subject that frames national identity. Generations have been fed on half truths and distorted facts.
This must stop, for nations which find lessons in history are the ones that progress. Policymakers must take a page out of France and Germany, which buried centuries of border disputes and enmity, and came out with a joint history book in 2006 that high school students in both countries follow.