Pak­istani text­books prop­a­gate a di­vi­sive ide­ol­ogy where Mus­lims are al­ways he roic and Hin­dus in­vari­ably di­a­bol­i­cal

India Today - - SIGNATURE - Ru­bina Saigol The au­thor is an in­de­pen­dent re­searcher in de­vel­op­ment, na­tion­al­ism and the state. She is based in Lahore.

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.


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.


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.


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.


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”.


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.

SAU­RABH SINGH/ www. in­di­a­to­day­im­ages. com

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