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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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