Par­ti­tion key battleground in text­book wars In­dian and Pak­istani schools un­able to con­front bit­ter le­gacy of split

Kuwait Times - - LOCAL -

ISLAMABAD: Pak­istani high school stu­dent No­man Afzal knows “trai­tor­ous” Hin­dus are to blame for the blood­shed that erupted when British In­dia split into two na­tions 70 years ago. His his­tory text­book tells him so. Stu­dents across the bor­der in In­dia are taught a starkly dif­fer­ent ver­sion of events, the re­sult of a decades-long ef­fort by the nu­clear-armed ri­vals to shape and con­trol his­tory to their own na­tion­al­is­tic nar­ra­tive.

The of­fi­cial un­will­ing­ness to con­front the bit­ter le­gacy of Par­ti­tion-and the skewed por­tray­als be­ing ped­dled in class­rooms from New Delhi to Karachi is hin­der­ing any hope of rec­on­cil­i­a­tion be­tween the arch-ri­vals, ex­perts say. Au­gust marks 70 years since the sub­con­ti­nent was di­vided into two in­de­pen­dent states-Hindu-ma­jor­ity In­dia and Mus­lim­ma­jor­ity Pak­istan — and mil­lions were up­rooted in one of the largest mass mi­gra­tions in his­tory.

An un­told num­ber of peo­ple-some es­ti­mates say up two mil­lion-died in the sav­age vi­o­lence that fol­lowed, as Hin­dus and Mus­lims flee­ing for their new home­lands turned on one an­other, rap­ing and butcher­ing in geno­ci­dal ret­ri­bu­tion. The car­nage sowed the seeds for the ac­ri­mony that pre­vails to­day be­tween In­dia and Pak­istan, and gen­er­a­tions later this defin­ing mo­ment in the sub­con­ti­nent’s his­tory is still po­lar­ized by na­tion­al­ism and ran­cor.

In a gov­ern­ment-ap­proved grade five his­tory text­book used in schools in Pak­istan’s Baluchis­tan prov­ince, Hin­dus are de­scribed as “thugs” who “mas­sa­cred Mus­lims, con­fis­cated their prop­erty, and forced them to leave In­dia”. “They looked down upon us, that is why we cre­ated Pak­istan,” said 17-year-old Afzal from Pak­istan’s Pun­jab prov­ince, reel­ing off a stock an­swer from his his­tory text­book.

On the other side of the bor­der, Mum­bai school­boy Tri­aksh Mi­tra learned how Mahatma Gandhi fought for a uni­fied In­dia free from British sub­ju­ga­tion while the Mus­lim League-the po­lit­i­cal party led by Pak­istan’s founder Muham­mad Ali Jin­nah­sided with the colo­nial rulers to carve out their own na­tion.

“But what they hadn’t re­ally told us was the Mus­lim side of it,” the 15-year-old said of his Par­ti­tion stud­ies.

His­tory kept hid­den

The chap­ters on Gandhi are a strik­ing ex­am­ple of the gap be­tween how Par­ti­tion is por­trayed on ei­ther side of the bor­der. In Pak­istan, his con­tri­bu­tion to the strug­gle for in­de­pen­dence is hardly men­tioned, whereas in In­dia he is hailed as an “one-man army”. His­tory teacher Aashish Dhakaan who works in a high school in In­dia’s Gu­jarat state, ac­knowl­edged that the cre­ation of the Mus­lim League was pop­u­larly up­held as “self re­liance and lib­erty” in Pak­istan, and the folly of “gullible Mus­lims” in In­dia.

“In our his­tory we won the war, and in their his­tory text­books, they won the war,” said Dhakaan. While the gov­ern­ment-sanc­tioned cur­ricu­lums on both sides of the bor­der ap­pear largely os­si­fied to their ver­sion of his­tory, one Pak­istan-based group has been us­ing games and pop­u­lar cul­ture to chal­lenge stu­dents to think crit­i­cally about their past. Qasim As­lam’s “His­tory Project” runs ses­sions in schools in In­dia and Pak­istan, invit­ing stu­dents to com­pare how Par­ti­tion ac­counts are pre­sented in the two coun­tries’ text­books.

“By the time they are 20, it is so­lid­i­fied and stays with them all their lives,” As­lam said of the one-sided his­tory lessons prof­fered in schools. Mum­bai-based stu­dent Mi­tra at­tended one of th­ese ses­sions in April. “It helped me to take a dif­fer­ent view­point into ac­count and to form a more bal­anced no­tion,” Mi­tra said. “If I know only one part, then it’s not the com­plete truth.” Islamabad-based Pak­istan stud­ies pro­fes­sor Tariq Rehman said that cor­rect­ing bias in the of­fi­cial syl­labi “would take a change in for­eign pol­icy” be­tween the two coun­tries.

Small signs of progress

“Au­thor­i­ties (in Pak­istan) don’t seem to be in­ter­ested in mak­ing changes and ques­tion the an­tag­o­nism against In­dia,” he added. But there are small signs of progress. The lat­est re­vi­sion of the state his­tory text­book in In­dia in­cludes graphic first-hand ac­counts of atroc­i­ties com­mit­ted by Hin­dus, and asks stu­dents if the vi­o­lence could be con­sid­ered a holo­caust. A book of tes­ti­monies ti­tled “The Other Side of Si­lence” by In­dian writer and Par­ti­tion his­to­rian Ur­vashi Bu­talia is now also part of the high school syl­labus in In­dia. Bu­talia said she is pleased that more peo­ple are try­ing to un­der­stand Par­ti­tion be­yond a na­tion­al­is­tic prism. “It would have been im­pos­si­ble 20 years ago,” she said. But out­side the class­room, Bu­talia says there is lit­tle ap­petite for con­fronting hard truths about the past.

The au­thor dis­cov­ered a se­ries of po­lice re­ports of rapes and mur­ders from 1947 that had been kept hid­den be­cause au­thor­i­ties feared “open­ing up a can of worms” if the hor­ri­fy­ing ac­counts went pub­lic. She also points to Hu­mayan’s Tomb and Pu­rana Qila-two an­cient mon­u­ments in New Delhi-where thou­sands of Par­ti­tion refugees sought sanc­tu­ary as the cap­i­tal de­scended into chaos, not­ing there is no plaque at ei­ther site to re­mind the pub­lic of this trou­bled le­gacy. “I do not say that si­lence is bro­ken,” she added. “We could learn so much, ba­si­cally learn never to re­peat that his­tory, but we don’t memo­ri­alise it in any way,” she warned.

— AFP

ISLAMABAD: This pho­to­graph taken on July 19, 2017, a Pak­istani vis­i­tor takes a pho­to­graph in front of his­tor­i­cal pic­tures of Hindu and Mus­lim lead­ers seek­ing in­de­pen­dence from British rule at the Pak­istan Mon­u­ment Mu­seum.

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