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Textbook Wars; Pakistan ‘Good’, India ‘Bad’


When we talk about the impact of conflict on education, we often limit our focus to the impact during the conflict and short term after effects post conflict. Many times we fail to consider the long term impact that conflict has on education, that is, the impact that remains years, or even decades, after the conflict is over.


In the case of Pakistan (and India), the impact of the conflict that occurred at the time of partition can still be seen in the educational curriculum – one that tells an extremely biased story for each country. The 1947 story of partition is one that we have all studied throughout our school years. But did we ever stop to consider just how true that account was?


In Pakistan, we have our history textbooks that paint India as the villains, who massacred our people and restricted our religious freedom, from who we were triumphant in gaining partition from. The opposite is true for India. Both sides, however, fail to account that atrocities and injustices were committed on both sides during partition. Due to this, any chance of reconciliation between the two parties is being hampered by the unwillingness to address the painful legacy of the partition and the distorted representations being promoted in schools.


Examples of the differences between the two stories, impacted by the partition conflict, can be seen through history textbooks. Pakistani students are often taught that the “traitorous” Hindus were entirely to blame for the bloodshed that occurred at the time of partition. In one government approved history textbook, Hindus were described as “thugs” who “massacred Muslims, confiscated their property, and forced them to leave India".


On the other side of the border, students in India are taught an entirely different story, one that forms their own separate nationalistic perspective. They are taught to see Pakistanis and Muslims as the villains that sided with the colonial rulers that led to the partition of the subcontinent. The gap between the two sides can be seen depicted in the chapters on Mahatma Gandhi, who is portrayed as a “one-many army” in the strive towards independence while being barely mentioned in Pakistani textbooks.


As one students puts it, “In our history we won the war, and in their history textbooks, they won the war.



Iqra Pervez

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23 Comments


I really do love your article about this issue. It was the biggest shocking revelation to me growing up that our textbooks were lying and the reality is not what we have been taught. Once I started reading on the actual history I felt very betrayed by our state because they way history was taught also created negative sentiments against groups of people that I wouldn't have liked to create if they weren't true. This has to stop.

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Faizan Qureshi
Faizan Qureshi
Jul 06, 2022

Iqra loved your take on this issue, however I was also wondering how alternate sources of history tell different story than the state-sanctioned history textbooks. For instance, 'Khol Do’, by Saadat Hassan Manto offers historians a range of resources to reconnect the histories of individuals, families and the state. It tells history without taking sides, removing the notion of ‘us’ and ‘them’, between India and Pakistan. The story provides an ‘alternative source of history’ by showing a realist and feminist portrayal of nature, rather than a manufactured one. With Manto’s uncensored critique of the Partition, and his inclusions of narratives of the marginalized communities he makes ‘the postcolonial movement come alive in all its ambivalences and contradictions’

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Iqra, i totally agree that both the states have been using a skewed & bias version of history to get the young minds in their own countries conform to certain ideologies and beliefs. They have been very successful in the indoctrination of false patriotism in the heart of its people. And with Pakistan being a security-state, there definitely are some benefits to this method. It supresses dissent and certain institutions of the country are reverred for their glorious wins in history.


However, what this type of miseducation also does is that it hampers the critical thinking skills of individuals. I, personally, think that history is something we learn from so we don’t repeat the same mistakes again and thus, i…

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I totally agree that the injustice of official histories has led to the erasure of so many authentic narratives that perhaps paint the picture in a different way. As has been the case, not exclusively in Pakistan, but across the world, especially in the West. I do wonder though, how much of it is in Pakistan's interest to shed these narrative histories, being largely a security-state? Especially when the other arch-nemesis, i.e., India, fails to do so. And I mean, we all understand how strong the hold of ideology is. Even when such differences of history are objectively elaborated on, the masses, usually indoctrinated by a certain narrative, can simply choose to not agree to other narratives. Most of the…

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This change in curriculum is indeed in Pakistan's interest, especially in the long run if we want to raise a more tolerant nation that prioritized peacebuilding over conflict, a nation that is not stuck in the past, still fighting our ancestors wars.

The feasibility of such a change is definitely an important issue to think about, as it is indeed challenging. However, it is something that is important enough to prioritise.

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Our history textbooks have failed to teach us the unbiased version of our pasts, we, as a nation have failed to accept and address our past mistakes. Even regarding the events of partition, I have yet to see officials accept the mass kidnappings, rapes and killings of the Hindus by the Muslims. The only way to prevent reoccurrence, is to reflect on and accept mistakes on our part so we can effectively instill a sense of right and wrong in the next generation

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Indeed. We as a nation are stuck on a nationalistic viewpoint where we ourselves are unwilling to move past the mindset that India is evil and our enemy. We accept what we are told and taught without question. If we continue going on like this we can never grow as a people and prosper on our own as country. Its due time that we move past this blame game and take responsibility. However, at the same time, people have been becoming more aware of this bias and there has been a shift towards actively challenging these biases. While it will take time to change a nations mindset, we are on the road to it, albeit a bumpy one.

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