Pakistan textbooks raise debate about 'curriculum of hate'
Government-sanctioned textbooks across Pakistan contain numerous examples of anti-minority and anti-Western language, prompting activists to encourage teachers to stop using them.
In a public school located just outside the capital, a classroom of ninth-graders follows quietly along in their history textbooks as their teacher reads out loud about what happened shortly after the creation of Pakistan in 1947:Skip to next paragraph
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“Caravans that were on the way to Pakistan were attacked by Hindus and Sikhs. Not a single Muslim was left alive in trains coming to Pakistan.”
As the magnitude of the sentence registers with the students, the phrase “No Muslim was left alive!” echoes around the classroom from whispered lips. Students are clearly engaged with the subject and clearly disturbed with what history they have just learned.
The only problem? That description in the students' books is highly misleading.
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Though the partition of India and Pakistan in 1947 was indeed one of massive violence, Mubarak Ali, who has written several books on India-Pakistan history, says this is a one-sided account of events and an exaggerated version of the truth. In fact, it was the Pakistani side where the communal riots started, and in reaction, Indians responded, he says, adding: "But very few trains were attacked. And many more made it alive, which is not taught."
Dr. Ali says that such content should be expunged from school books, much as India has managed to do.
"Instead of teaching Pakistani youth that Hindus from India are to be blamed for everything, textbooks should critically look at this communal violence, which can actually be traced to the way both Muslims and Hindus responded to British imperialism before the independence. We should not glorify this division but rather criticize it, because Muslims and Hindus coexisted peacefully for centuries before," he says.
Across Pakistan, government-sanctioned school textbooks contain blatantly anti-religious-minority, anti-Western material. And many are worried the curriculum is fueling intolerance, especially among youths – leading to violent behavior and even sympathy for the Taliban.
“Such textbooks try to create and define Pakistani nationalism in a very narrow sense. It tries to define it in term of an Islamic identity,” says Abdul Hameed Nayyar, a well-known historian, activist, and former physicist who is part of a Lahore-based campaign to encourage teachers around the country to raise awareness about this issue by calling it “the curriculum of hatred” and encouraging teachers to stop using the textbooks.
After the teacher finishes reading, he asks another student to continue reading aloud from the next chapter, which focuses on why Pakistan came into existence: "Narrow-mindedness of the Hindus and the conspiracies of whites led to the call of this Islamic country, Pakistan.”
When asked later about his opinion of Hindus and Christians, the student reiterates what his textbook said. “I think Hindus are against Pakistan, against Islam. Hindus are like that. And even the British and the non-Muslims – they still oppose Pakistan,” he adds.
That type of reaction is a problem, say activists, who note that school history texts are used by impressionable children and should be based in fact, not opinion, as students form their own ideas about the world. “These books try to show Pakistan and Muslims are victims of all kinds of conspiracy, from lots of people from many countries, which results in making people very paranoid,” says Mr. Nayyar. “And they become infused with narrowmindedness,” which can lead to extremism, he adds.
'The subtle subversion'
Each province has its own textbook board, which reviews and approves textbooks for use in both public and private schools.