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Constructing the Perfect Pakistani Citizen(™)

Who is the ideal Pakistani? The answer is fairly simple: a cisgender, heterosexual Punjabi, Sunni Muslim man. (Bonus points if he’s rich, or from a feudal, land-owning family.)


The state considers this primary actor in all its plans and policies. This actor is given the finest job opportunities (and not just in Punjab: higher government posts in provinces like Balochistan are also reserved for the Punjabis, while locals are hired for lower positions), armed forces only take action (against, for example, the TTP) when this actor is threatened, and this group makes up most of the administration.


But how is this ideal Pakistani (™) constructed? Among many other things, education plays an important role. To understand this better, let’s look at two of the aspects of the perfect Pakistani’s identity.


  1. Religion

Pakistan is dominated by Sunni Muslims, most of whom pledge such loyalty to their religion that they are willing to die or (more commonly) kill in the name of religion. This extremist nature breeds the idea that only Sunni Muslims are true Muslims, and Pakistan’s minorities face the brunt of this extremism (which can range anywhere from forced conversions, blasphemy charges and mob lynching, state-level proclamations that Ahmedis are not Muslims, and chanting slogans like “Shia Kafir”). Within the classroom, these sentiments are reflected most commonly by erasure. Pakistan studies classes and textbooks never mention minority communities, except Hindus, who are deemed Indian and hence enemies, and the Islamiat curriculum only teaches Sunni Islam (and in a manner that suggests that Sunni Islam is the “correct and only” version of Islam). Instead of acknowledging differences, classrooms push one ‘acceptable’ identity towards students, which is reinforced by the treatment of minorities they see around them.


  1. Gender and Sexual Orientation

When SNC’s new textbooks were first publicized, there was much outrage about this cover, which depicts the male members of the family physically elevated to a higher level.

This is not the only misogynistic element found in Pakistani textbooks. Women are usually shown taking care of the house, or in professions like teaching and nursing, while men thrive in every other role. And as far as transgender and non-binary representation is concerned, there is none–not in the textbooks and not in the classrooms. The curriculum is heteronormative, and any other sexuality is not only unrepresented, but also largely rejected. A poignant example recent example is Bahria University Karachi Campus putting up a “Say No To LGBTQ+” sign on campus, effectively telling all students who identify with the community that they don't belong.

Although this is a brief exploration of only two factors, it showcases how the curriculum and classroom environment is actively hostile for anyone who does not fit in the standard. Classrooms not only reinforce prejudices, but also construct new ones. The smallest first step towards tolerance in Pakistan should be to tackle biases and intolerance from textbooks and classrooms, and make at least these safe spaces for all communities.

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At this point, i am scared of the direction this country is headed in. Our curriculum is filled with extremist right winged content. We dont want to acknowledge the diversity let alon appreciate and accpet it. Do you think this 'education' we're providing even is education? It baffles me that our policy makers have forgotten what education is at it's very core. They want the country to be filled with a certain kind of majority and that's it. It's eiter this or nothing, and this menatality can lead to sever damage in the fututre.

Polub

Textbooks play a vital role in shaping the mindsets of students from a very young age. I remember, back in school, shia students would always feel segregated when sunni students would openly criticize shia beliefs and teachers would also openly speak up against ahmedis, shias, and other minorities without any hesitation. These educational systems lack inculcating cooperation between different sects and hence the future awaits aggravations and hatred for each other and results in uprisings.

Polub

The part where you discuss the Sunni orientation of Pakistani textbooks reminded me of the conflict that emerged in Gilgit-Baltistan over the same concern. The Shia community felt like it was a strategy that the Sunnis were employing as part of the divide and rule policy. What's most concerning is that around a 100 people died in this conflict. This is an example of how the biased content of textbooks can lead to heightened sentiments that can easily lead to communal violence.

Polub

Reading the part where you mentioned about the textbooks only following the Sunni curriculum reminded me of the time when back In O levels, I had this specific question that why do we specifically skip the Shia section, despite it being part of the textbook. The fact that it is assumed that what Sunni Muslims follow is the only right way to approach Islam is so problematic in itself. Also, the picture you have attached referring to the single national curriculum also depicts how both the females are wearing Hijab while the male characters are casually dressed in western attire. The depiction of Hijab is not a problem, but the fact that its not even part of Pakistan’s national dress…

Polub

A very insightful post! The factors and lenses that you have explored, all highlight the seminality of education in Pakistan within the context of nation building - state sanctioned indoctrination. The society that emerges as a product of this system, replicates the injustice on paper through targeted killings on the streets. It then becomes evident that policies aimed at reforming the society, intended to tackle prejudice must begin at the roots: re-structure the education system. Through your post, I am also compelled to wonder, the complicity of the teachers in ensuring a biased environment. In my personal experience, the teachers allowed students to berate the shia kid in the class during Islamiat lessons, never coming to the student's defense and…

Polub
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