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.”