AN EDUCATION IN DEM ONOLOGY
Pakistani textbooks propagate a divisive ideology where Muslims are always he roic and Hindus invariably diabolical
An exploration of history textbooks produced by the state over the past six decades reveals a number of rhetorical and narrative devices used to construct a particular picture of the past. While most of the textbooks were altered by successive governments in power to suit their specific perspectives, certain features remained constant across time periods and indicate the need to perpetually reiterate the dominant state ideology which has been resistant to change.
TWO- NATION THEORY
The story of the two nations, Hindus and Muslims, as two eternally opposed, inimical entities incapable of ever reconciling is the most prominent feature of Pakistani official textbooks. This story, based on Pakistan’s foundational mythology, bedecks the pages of every history and social studies book ever produced. It usually begins with laments of Hindu mistreatment of Muslims, goes on to the mercy and forgiveness of Muslim rulers, then highlights the allegedly immutable Hindu tendency toward cheating, trickery and deceit, and ends with the ultimate Muslim triumph through valour, honesty and morality. Each religious group is homogenised as no internal differences among Hindus or Muslims are mentioned ( elision) and the reasons for all conflicts are located in character ( moral Muslim, immoral Hindu), conspiracy theory, and primordial and eternal characteristics. Since no economic, social, political or historical dynamics and causes are mentioned, there is no History in this history. It is a binary good/ bad, moral/ immoral story somewhat like an epic tale in which good battles evil and ultimately conquers all.
MYTHICAL TIME OF RELIGIOUS NATIONALISM
The moral/ immoral dichotomy is set up through the fairytale construction of time since real time periods are seldom mentioned. The technique used is the before/ after division of time. Several textbooks mention Indian and Arab society “Before Islam” and describe these societies as steeped in all kinds of evil customs and practices. Very often the two societies are conflated and the reader can hardly separate them conceptually. Before the advent of Islam the rule of immorality is rampant; once Islam is inserted, the societies become cleansed and purified. After the advent of Islam, false idols are destroyed and Islam replaces all social vices like caste system, idol worship, sati and infanticide with good, moral practices and worship of the one true God. These societies exist in mythical time as actual historical periods are not mentioned.
GEOGRAPHY DIVIDED BY RELIGION
Just as time is divided by religion into before and after, space is also divided into the moral Muslim space and the immoral Hindu space. The moral dimension refers to both sacred and secular spaces. This division is achieved through contrasts of Hindu temples with Muslim mosques. The temples are described as dark, narrow and closed with vague suggestions that something illicit is occurring, while the mosques are described as open, well- lit spaces where all relations are licit and a legitimate god is being worshipped. Similar descriptions characterise Hindu homes versus Muslim homes wherein the former are complicated, labyrinthine and narrow while the latter are straightforward and open. The depictions seem to suggest that there is something twisted and convoluted about Hindu architecture as opposed to the straight and linear Muslim architecture. Muslim space is ultimately expanded to create a mythical place called ‘ the Muslim world’ and chapters that follow describe ‘ seas of the Muslim world’, ‘ mountains of the Muslim world’ and ‘ climate of the Muslim world’. Geography faithfully follows ideology instead of natural laws governing physical features.
HEROES AND TRAITORS
History textbook writing in Pakistan is steeped in the idea of Muslim heroes who fought for the glory of Islam and motherland. These highly eulogised figures are juxtaposed against traitors that continually recur in several texts. The favourite heroes are
Muhammad bin Qasim and Mahmud of Ghazni whose aggression, destruction and bloodshed receive great plaudits and lavish praise. On the other side are Mir Jafar of Bengal, who allegedly betrayed Siraj- ud- Daula, and Mir Qasim who is said to have betrayed Tipu Sultan of Mysore. These traitors are the enemy within who seek to destroy the nation. The nation seeks the blood— the blood of martyrs to rejuvenate itself, and the blood of traitors to invoke enemies lurking in one’s backyard ready to stab one in the back. Both kinds of blood enable the cementing of the idea of the nation. Muslim aggression and demolition of Hindu temples is glorified and receives immense approbation; on the other hand, the destruction of the Babri Masjid is decried and attributed to Hindu cruelty and propensity for violence. The obvious contradiction is never addressed or even perceived. Textbook historians tend to keep ideas and facts in watertight compartments so that contradictions, complexities and mixtures do not spoil the neat and sanitised tale of good versus evil.
The language used, particularly by Urdu textbooks, is emotional, harsh and crude. Words like makkaar, aaiyaar ( liar), goonda are often used for Hindus who fought against Muslim imperialism in India. Mahatma Gandhi receives extremely unkind characterisations such as “Machiavelli”, and is often described as deceptive, clever, a trickster and untrustworthy. The exploits of Muslim conquerors are portrayed in terms that evoke deep emotion. The bodily metaphors used for the break- up of Pakistan such as “dismemberment” and the “whole nation was writhing in deep pain from the wounds inflicted by the rupture” are designed to evoke intense passion for the national body which was rent asunder by the “evil designs of the enemy”.
EXCLUSION AND INCLUSION
The simultaneous use of the devices of exclusion ( ignoring or using brevity) and inclusion ( providing generous space and over- emphasising) are used by textbook historians to create the desired picture of events as required by nationalist objectives. The event that is most strongly silenced through exclusions, brevity and elision is the 1971 secession of East Pakistan after the genocide committed by the Pakistan army. If this event were to be captured truthfully and faithfully, the idea of the moral self and immoral other would fall apart. The moral self has to be maintained at all costs to permanently justify the two nation rupture. The separation of East Pakistan gave the lie to the two- nation theory as ethnic nationalism and difference seemed to override religious commonality. The story of the formation of Bangladesh is silenced between half truths and full lies. Either one- liners at the end of chapters relegate the entire episode to the dark realms of conspiracy, or there is excessive splurging on an alternative story which glorifies the army and represents the freedom fighters as traitors. The selective use of some facts and the complete silence over other equally important facts helps in achieving the slant required by the national story. This device is frequently deployed in the story of independence, the Pakistani version of the Partition of India.
It appears that Pakistani public school textbooks were not written to serve the pedagogical imperatives of intellectual development and the inculcation of critical thinking. Rather, they were written to perpetually justify a divisive ideology of rupture which had to be continually reiterated in the construction of national memory.