By Haya Fatima Iqbal
KARACHI: The portrayal of religious minorities in textbooks prescribed by state-funded textbook boards is a grave indicator of what the country’s young people are being taught in terms of tolerance and respect for other religions.
According to a 2007 report titled ‘Producing Thinking Minds – A Report on Pakistan’s Secondary School Curricula and Textbooks’ by Enlightened Pakistan, an organisation founded by several Pakistani university students, there are numerous instances even in the 2006 edition of local textbooks for grades sixth to tenth in which sweeping generalisations have been made against people belonging to religions other than Islam.
Similarly, writings and reports by other researchers such as Pervez Hoodbhoy, Abdul Hameed Nayyar and Tariq Rahman, mention some of the sentences that have been noted in Pakistani textbooks: “Christians have always harmed the Muslims. They did not even stop from killing them. They occupied Muslims lands, looted them and treated them very badly”, “The foundation of the Hindu set-up was based on injustice and cruelty”, “The non-Muslims, especially the Hindus, did not like Muslims as they looked upon them as usurpers” and even “The Christians took to their traditional tactics of conspiring against the ruler”.
Vijay Kumar Khatri, an engineer by profession, recalls the time when he used to study at his school in Dhoronaro village, he did not feel good reading such material in class. Moreover, owing to such textbooks and children’s brought up on the part of their parents, “Children were trained to have a negative mindset from a very young age. There was definitely a level of mistrust between Hindu and Muslim students, so much so that Muslim students did not even want to drink from the glass we had used!” said Khatri.
Quaid-e-Azam University (QAU) National Institute of Pakistan Studies (NIPS) Director Dr Tariq Rahman said such material tends to bias children in a way that Muslims learn to look down upon other religions, whereas people from other religions develop antipathy towards Muslims. “It is not only legally wrong but also works against democratic values,” added Dr Rahman.
According to him, changes in curriculum had already started taking place after the year 1958, but the process sped up after Pakistan’s war of 1965 against India. However, textbooks were drastically revised during Gen Ziaul Haq’s regime. Explaining what Social Studies book were like prior to 1965, Dr Rahman relates, “When I was at school, I even read about Buddha and Gandhi and the course was not that one-sided. It did not have religious remarks at all. Also, we did not have Islamiat as a subject and what we used to study was a subject called Moral Sciences.”
Sarah John, a schoolteacher, opines that more than textbooks, it is the lessons taught to children at home that matter more as to how they behave with people of other religions. Apart from one instance at college where one of her colleagues passed a crude remark at her on the basis of her religion, she said she has not felt discriminated by people as such. However, it is the state, which has probably done the greatest injustice to her and many others in their student lives. Sarah had to study Islamiat all the way from her matriculation up to her BA, because of a prevalent notion that when students attempt an Ethics exam at the board level, they are singled out and given lower marks. The same is the case with Khatri, who had to study Islamiat in SSC and HSC because the teachers did not give detailed guidance on how to attempt an Ethics exam. “Before Matric, all the Hindu students in my class used to sit idle during Islamiat classes and we felt badly left out.”
It is also dismal to see that the only substitute for the subject of Islamiat for non-Muslim students is Ethics. “I have sometimes felt that if Muslim students are taught about Islam, I should also be taught the Bible. Even at Kinnaird, which is a Christian college, the only option I had apart from Islamiat was to study Ethics,” said Sarah. According to Khatri too, “Either all children should be taught their religions separately or there should be one subject for the whole class that comprehensively deals with all religions of the world.”
In 2002, during the rule of Gen (r) Pervez Musharraf, some changes were made to the anti-Hindu and anti-Indian content in the Social Studies textbook of grade eighth and Pakistan Studies textbook of grade ninth. Nevertheless, as Dr Rahman mentions, “Apart from textbooks, hatred continues to break into the minds of Pakistanis everyday through some television channels, radio stations, newspapers and informal hate literature too.”
Sanobar Nathaniel, a recent graduate, could not have been more realistic about the improvement in Pakistan’s textbooks, as she said, “There needs a lot to be improved in our educational system in general, let alone religious issues, but considering the fact that ours is a Muslim majority country, such issues cannot be taken up or be thought to be a worthwhile fight.”