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Partition Narratives in Pakistani Textbooks: Perpetuation of an Exclusionary Attitude?

The Partition of 1947 is described as one of the most tragic events in history in terms of human suffering, characterized by brutal communal violence leading up to and during the division. Since 1947, however, the Indian and Pakistani states have tried to further their own narratives regarding this event, providing justifications for decisions taken by multiple political actors and instilling jingoistic feelings within their populations. Under the pretense of nation-building and national integration, censored state narratives have overshadowed critical debates and analyses regarding key events and personalities involved in the Partition of 1947. The omission of facts and twisting of histories to suit the interests of the state-leadership hierarchy has been a common factor between the two countries. Particularly in Pakistan, all events leading up to the creation of the country are presented in a fantastical light with little to no critical assessment.


In the 1970s, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto introduced Pakistan Studies as a compulsory subject in secondary and high school, after which the teaching of Pakistani history began through state-issued books that were carefully screened for ‘appropriate’ content before being introduced to students.


As an example, the Punjab Board issued textbook for Grade 8 begins highlights the differences between the Hindus and the Muslims of the subcontinent, labelling the Congress and Hindus as cruel, and thus perpetuating the famous ‘them vs us’ narrative. Comments such as the “Hindus wanted to usurp the rights of Muslims due to their majority,” and “during the Congress ministries Hindus treated Muslims badly,” present a simplified version of history without considering that the Congress itself consisted of Muslim members (Ibn-e-Sadiq et al. 54).


Similarly, the Pakistan Studies book for grades eleven and twelve issued by the Federal Textbook Board Islamabad lists Hindu extremism as a factor that led to Partition: “The Muslims had lived with the Hindus as neighbors and compatriots for about one thousand years. On the basis of their experience, they could not expect good neighborly treatment from the extremist Hindus, who had already made it clear that the Muslims had no place in India, they should either embrace Hinduism or quit India”.


The portrayal of history in such a manner although does not directly lead to conflict, it does set the basis for the formation of an exclusionary ideology amongst the citizens of the country that ultimately causes them to alienate the minority groups and fuel support for anti-Indian and anti-Hindu sentiments. In my opinion, this sort of teaching culminates into a nation’s overall support for violent conflict against another nation and/or religious group, and also, justifies the prioritization of a higher defense budget, limited provision of minority rights and hate speech and acts of violence against minority groups in the context of Pakistan.

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Iman Asif
Iman Asif
10 de dez. de 2022

This a very important post!

It is essential to know that education can serve both as a means to resolve conflict, and spread awareness i,e enlightening minds, and also as a means to instigate conflict, aggravating the socio-cultural and economic differences amongst the members of society, often leading to violence, especially against the already vulnerable and marginalized. This can be seen as mentioned in the examples above through our history and Islamic studies textbooks. One example of this could be how the Islamic studies curriculum is pro-Sunni which not only excludes the rest of the sects but often perpetuates any differences in ideas and practices as deviation from the faith. The impact of such an education can be seen when…

Curtir

Your point of how the portrayal of history in educational textbooks can lead to the creation of an exclusionary ideology is very valid. Because they don't just warp historical details, they also just erase important historical details that lead to a misrepresentation of how these events actually transpired. Weaponizing education in favor of state interests means you are risking these students forming discriminatory attitudes against minorities which means you are also risking violence against these minorities.

Curtir
Respondendo a

Agreed! Many important details are completely erased and an example of this is the fact that a number of crimes were committed by members of the Pakistani armed forces against Bangladeshi women during the war of 1971, yet their stories are never talked about in official narratives.

Curtir

an insightful post!

the partition took place more than 70 years ago but the continuation of one-sided biased narratives about it till date shows obsession of Pakistanis state to use it for its own interests. these interests can be, as you mentioned, keeping and justifying higher defense budgets, and also maintaining the power and legitimacy of the political parties and armed forces. despite the debate by many economists and political scientists about how friendly ties between India and Pakistan can be beneficial for both countries, we see that propagation of hate against each other keeps rising. and your point about how these narratives then also translate in our attitude towards the minorities in the country is valid and very important.…

Curtir
Respondendo a

Agreed, this narrative is pushed not just in Pakistan, but in India as well. The rewriting of history to view Muslim rulers and empires through a singular lens as invaders who were entirely opposed to the Hindu population, along with the propagation that the Muslim League was responsible for breaking up 'Mother India', without any debate and analysis is a way to enforce anti-Muslim and anti-Pakistani sentiment within the population. Its effects are quite apparent with reports of violence between different religious groups surfacing every other day.

Curtir

I think this greatly relates to our discussion on master narratives, under which they wanted to leave no room for their narrative to be questioned through the solidification of these themes in the education system. Of course, we are well aware that there is plenty of blame to be passed around. For e.g., we consider only Pakistanis victimised at the hands of Hindus during the partition, but today, lessons like the ones that are taught in the LUMS Pak studies course show that violence was inflicted on everyone by everyone, which would question the master narrative.

In recent times, there's also been an additional dimension added to the master narrative debate which is whether countries other than Pakistan and India…

Curtir
Respondendo a

Another example is of course the 1971 War, which is not talked about in depth at the school level and the country's armed forces are absolved of all blame.

Moreover, your mention of Ms Marvel made me recall the reaction of the majority of the Pakistani population to the scene that depicted Partition as a tragedy that separated people from their homes. The fact that so many people were outraged by this depiction shows the success of these master narratives and school curricula that Pakistanis of all age groups refuse to look at history from a critical lens.

Curtir

State history, I believe is designed in a way to protect the state. Its purpose is to create a sense of nationhood in the children. This does not at any point mean that it should exclude a particular group. The first time I had exposure to history different from state history that we have been taught, was at university level. It allowed me to see where the Pakistani state went wrong which have been masked and presented in such a manner that it seems that others were always unfair to Pakistan. I remember comparing the history of 1971 that I had read in my O’levels and the one I read in one of my courses. It allowed me to explore…

Curtir
Respondendo a

I believe most of us share your experience of being exposed to a different side of history at the university level, however, this too is limited to a small fraction of students in Pakistan. This is because history is analysed more critically at LUMS than almost all other universities across the country. Most of my friends who go to NUST, medical colleges and other such universities continue to be taught the same state-sponsored narratives with little to no critical analysis to that is imperative in a university-level course. I agree that it should, nonetheless, be taught as a subject at the school, however, students - perhaps through their teachers - should be allowed to question the country's past events and…

Curtir
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