Nationalism and patriotism in Pakistan are contested subjects. What makes us Pakistanis and what is it that makes us love our land and nation?
The answers to these questions vary widely depending on who is being asked. A large part of our national identity stems from our sense of history and culture that are deeply rooted in the land and in the legacy of the region’s ancient civilisations. Religion has also played a big part in making us what we are today. But the picture general history textbooks paint for us does not portray the various facets of our identity.
Instead it offers quite a convoluted description of who we are. The distortion of historical facts has in turn played a quintessential role in manipulating our sense of self. What’s ironic is that the boldest fallacies in these books are about the events that are still in our living memory.
Herald invited writers and commentators, well versed in history, to share their answers to what they believe is the most blatant lie taught through Pakistan history textbooks.
The fundamental divide between Hindus and Muslims
The most blatant lie in Pakistan Studies textbooks is the idea that Pakistan was formed solely because of a fundamental conflict between Hindus and Muslims. This idea bases itself on the notion of a civilisational divide between monolithic Hindu and Muslim identities, which simply did not exist.
The stress on religion ignored other factors that could cut across both identities. For instance, a Muslim from most of South India had far more in common, because of his regionally specific culture and language, with Hindus in this area than the Muslims in the north of the Subcontinent.
Similarly, the division of the historical narrative into a ‘Hindu’ and ‘Muslim’ period, aside from the ironic fact that this was actually instituted by the British, glosses over the reality that Islamic empires also fought each other for power. After all, Babar had to defeat Ibrahim Lodhi, and thus, the Delhi Sultanate, for the Mughal period to begin.
Therefore, power and empire building often trumped this religious identity, that textbooks claim, can be traced linearly right to the formation of Pakistan.
These textbooks tend to have snapshot descriptions of the contempt with which the two religious communities treated one another. This is specifically highlighted in descriptions of the Congress ministries formed after the elections of 1937.
Other factors that contributed historically to these shows of religious ‘contempt’ in South Asian history are often ignored. Indeed, Richard Eaton’s classic study of temple desecrations shows that in almost all cases where Hindu temples were ransacked, it was for political or economic reasons.
In most cases, it was because the Muslim ruler was punishing an insubordinate Hindu official. Otherwise, the Mughals protected such temples. Jumping ahead, this sort of inter-communal cooperation aimed at maintaining political control could also be seen in the Unionist Party, which was in power in Punjab all the way up until 1946.
As Pakistan was formed barely a year later, the notion that its formation was based on a long-standing and fundamental conflict between Hindus and Muslims is deeply problematic.
— Anushay Malik holds a PhD in history from University of London and is currently an assistant professor at the Lahore University of Management Sciences
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