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Bangladesh: Textbooks being tailored to please religious groups? - select commentary and reports

6 March 2017

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The Daily Star - February 25, 2017

Communalising textbooks - How others may look at us

Manzoor Ahmed

The opening words of an education blog posted under the auspices of UNESCO Global Education Monitoring report concludes that the new version of textbooks from grade one to grade ten display a deliberate move to give the content a religious if not communal slant. (See Global Education Blog, 8 February, 2017).

It goes on: Bangladesh has always had separate religious books in schools for followers of different faiths, and textbooks for other disciplines have always been secular. This year, however, the new text books, even those that are not related to religious studies, have been tailored to please religious groups. First graders now learn that ’O’ is for ’orna’, a type of scarf worn by girls and women, rather than for ’ol’, a type of yam, for instance. In addition, 17 poems have been removed, which local media has reported, at the request of a group -Hefazat-e-Islam - who reportedly told the government those were ’atheistic’.

It further adds: Some commentators believe the changes in Bangladesh’s books might have a political motive, given that the next general election is in 2019, and pleasing these groups could win over a particular electorate. The government has been quick to say this is not the case.

The blog refers to the GEM Policy paper on textbooks published last year. The paper had pointed out that textbooks can easily breed and reinforce intolerance, prejudice and discrimination. “In 16 countries in Europe and North America, for example, 50 percent to 75 percent of all coverage of Islam and Arab societies in world history secondary school textbooks is related to conflict, nationalism, extremism or terrorism, representing these societies as violent and unstable,” the policy paper noted.

What should be a matter of concern for Bangladesh policy makers is that the recent incidents in Bangladesh are cited as an example of the bigotry and distorted views seen in text books in many countries. The Blog’s concluding words warn, “ This story reveals… that monitoring education progress cannot rely on access data alone… there is an urgent need to monitor the content of education if we are to ensure that education is promoting sustainable development.”

As part of the Ekushey Book Fair, Bangla Academy hosted a public discussion on education and social progress on February 20. This writer was invited to present the main paper. Professor Emeritus Sirajul Islam Chowdhury was in the chair, while the discussants included Prof. Abdul Mannan, UGC Chairman; Prof. Harunur Rashid, Vice-Chancellor of the National University; and Rasheda K. Chowdhury, Executive Director of CAMPE.

I drew attention to the fact that the first education commission of independent Bangladesh, the Kudrat-e- Khuda Commission, had made a distinction between learning about religion and religion-based education.

The Commission had recommended a common universal education for all children up to grade 8. Madrasas, after this primary stage, would be a form of vocational education for those who may become teachers for family religious instruction, religion teachers in general schools, imams and muezzins of mosques, and kazis or registrars of Muslim marriages.

The Commission never envisaged a parallel religion-based system of education from pre-primary to university, supported by the state revenue along with the secular system. We have strayed far from the premises of the Khuda Commission.

It is hardly discussed, and not a politically correct question to ask, whether the state should support a faith-based system of education; and if it does, what proportions of students, institutions and public budget for this parallel system should be compared to the secular system. The madrasa proponents have already raised the logical demand for a full parity with the secular system claiming access to public service jobs for madrasa graduates. Soon there may even be a demand for quotas for madrasa graduates.

Let’s not forget that the madrasas supported by public funds and the quomi madrasas run with charity raised at home and abroad prospered since the military rulers assumed power in 1975. The irony is that once the genie was out of the bottle, even the elected governments found it impossible to put it back.

The discussants and the chair at the Ekushey forum agreed that it would be a dangerous game to appease religious extremists out of short-sighted political calculation. The characterisation of the Bangladesh textbooks in the GEM blog may not be entirely fair. But it would be quite fair to say what happened with the textbooks recently is not acceptable and must not be allowed to be repeated.

The writer is Professor Emeritus at BRAC University.

o o

Dhaka Tribune - March 06, 2017

HC questions legality of changes made to textbooks

by Ashif Islam Shaon

HC questions legality of changes made to textbooks
The changes made to the textbooks by removing well-known writers was allegedly made to satisfy the demands of radical group Hefazat-e-Islam.

The High Court issued a rule yesterday, asking the government to explain why the changes made to the curriculum by excluding write-ups of well-known authors should not be declared illegal.

Justices Naima Haider and Abu Taher Mohammad Saifur Rahman issued the rule after holding a primary hearing on a writ petition filed by educationist Prof Dr Anwar Hossain and curriculum expert Momtaz Jahan, stating the changes to the curriculum were illegal and unlawful.

The court asked the education secretary and the chairman of the National Curriculum and Textbook Board to respond within four weeks.

Syed Mamun Mahbub, one of the counsels to the petitioners, said: “The exclusion of the writings of well-known and pro-Liberation War writers like Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyay, Golam Mustafa, Humayun Azad, Sanaul Haque and others from the textbooks shows a clear tendency toward communalism. This is clearly a conspiracy.”

“In 2013, the textbook had contained write-ups from well-known writers. The texts had expressed non-communal, social and ethical mores and values,” he added.

“Recently, when radical Islamist group Hefazat-e-Islam demanded the exclusion of some writers from the textbooks of Class I till Class IX, the authorities concerned removed some writers’ pieces from the textbooks and replaced them with religion themed texts.”

o o

The Daily Star - March 7, 2017

Why changes in textbooks?

HC questions, asks authorities to explain in 4 weeks

Staff Correspondent

The High Court yesterday questioned the legality of bringing changes in the textbooks of primary and secondary levels by excluding write-ups of some reputed authors.

The court issued a rule asking the authorities concerned to show cause in four weeks as to why the changes in the textbooks should not be declared illegal.

The education secretary and chairman of the National Curriculum and Textbook Board (NCTB) have been made respondents to the rule.

The HC bench of Justice Naima Haider and Justice Abu Taher Md Saifur Rahman came up with the rule following a writ petition filed last week by former vice-chancellor of Jahangirnagar University Prof Anwar Hossain and curriculum expert Momtaz Jahan challenging the legality of the changes in the textbooks.

The petition said some write-ups of several acclaimed and progressive authors, including Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyay, Golam Mustafa, Humayun Azad and Sanaul Haque, have been removed from the books.

Some write-ups, which are already in the religion studies books, have been included in the Bangla curriculum for class-I to class–IX following the demand of Hefajat-e Islam, a Qawmi madrasa-based organisation, added the petition.

The contents that have been dropped are --- Prarthona by Golam Mostafa and Boi by Humayun Azad for class-V; Ranchi Bhraman by S Wazed Ali, Lal Goruta by Satyen Sen, Lalu by Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyay, Ramayan Kahini by Upendra Kishore Roy Chowdhury and Sabha by Sanaul Haque for class-VI.

The petition read that some new contents, which are in the religion studies books, have been included in the Bangla textbooks. Sobai Miley Kori Kaj has been added to the Bangla textbook for Class-II, Khalifa Hazrat Abu Bakr (RA) class-III, Khalifa Hazrat Umar (RA) class-IV and Biday Hajj and Shaheed Titumir to that for class-V.

Such changes in the curriculum are the reflection of communalism and this is unlawful, petitioners’ lawyer Syed Mamun Mahbub told The Daily Star.

The government is facing widespread criticism from various quarters over some embarrassing blunders in textbooks and dropping of some contents.

Hefajat and Bangladesh Awami Olama League have all along been demanding exclusion of some of the poems written by “Hindus and atheists”.

Many have alleged that some poems, including Boi by Humayun Azad, have been dropped from Bangla textbooks for different classes as per the demand of the two organisations.

Eminent citizens and different organisations strongly condemned the anomalies in textbooks and demanded withdrawal of the “error-ridden textbooks” immediately.

Following criticisms and media reports, the education ministry made NCTB chief editor Pritish Kumar Sarkar and its senior expert Lana Humayra Khan officers on special duty (OSD), a status regarded as a punishment.

Several committees have already been formed to identify the mistakes in textbooks and also those responsible.

o o, Sunday, February 26th, 2017

A silent coup

by Maskwaith Ahsan;

Bangladesh is going through a phase of alarming radicalization. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina with an obvious intention to remain unchallenged, has over and again vowed that Bangladesh will follow the Medina Convention.

Initially it was thought that the slogan of “Medina Convention” was just rhetoric to please the sentiments of Muslims. Some Awami supporter even tried to justify this rhetoric by saying that Sheikh Hasina was trying to counter the religious politics of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) which was a trading partner of the Jamaat-e-Islami.

But as days roll by, Hasina seems to be falling in her own trap; her religious sentiments are overpowering the spirit of democracy. She has recently renewed her commitment to rebuild the society in light of so-called Islamic teachings.

Bangladesh protest

Fanatics demand execution of atheists in Bangladesh – File

On this matter alone the ruling Awami League can be seen clearly split along ideological lines, with the splinter faction sticking to the secular spirit of the 1972 constitution designed to establish an inclusive peoples’ Republic where people from all religions could enjoy equal rights.

The other group within the Awami League is adamant to establish a Muslim Bangladesh based on the dream of Jamaat-e-Islami. This group appears more powerful, as it has a more effective role in the decision making process. Its aspiration is to go beyond Pakistan and have a country like Saudi Arabia. From textbooks to tailoring houses, a recreation of the Islamic Kingdom is getting obvious.

With the collective connivance of Jamaat, BNP and Awami League, the Hindu community is being wiped out of Bangladesh. Statistics reveal that all the parties are sharing the land and wealth of uprooted Hindus. Other religious and ethnic groups have gone through this same crime against humanity committed by all the three leading political players.

In step with the “an eye for an eye” political tradition the Awami League has benched the BNP since coming into power. Some Jamaat leaders have been tried for their crimes against humanity committed during the 1971 struggle but now it seems to be merely a ploy by the Awami League to portray itself as having successfully cleaned up the mess created by Jamaat.

The reality on the other hand is that the Jamaat is now more influential than before. It has historically sided with every regime in power so as to achieve its target of creating a nation like Saudi Arabia.

Over the course of decades the Jamaat-e-Islami systematically planted its people in every political party and administration of Bangladesh and that’s why we can clearly see that no matter which party come to power the political thoughts of Jamaat remains dominant across the nation.
Bangladesh textbook

Progressive students bring out procession in Dhaka to protest doctoring of school textbooks – file

In different times groups with different names like Ulama League or Hefajat have come forward with similar demands all designed by the Jamaat. Excluding Hindu writers from the textbooks and radicalization of the educational system have been implemented during the present Awami League regime according to the will of Ulama League and Hefajat.

Now even the education minister of Awami League says that Islamic teachings should be the backbone of the educational system of Bangladesh.

Just as the Jamaat affiliated groups in Pakistan created a “kafir factory” by declaring their opponents one by one as kafir, in Bangladesh too they have created an ”atheist factory” which has led to the killing of many writers and bloggers.

The Awami League hasn’t even bothered to condemn such fatwas and actions of the Hefazat let alone hold its leaders accountable for publicly declaring the killing of atheists as “Wajib” (religious duty).

Instead, the Awami League openly sided with Hefazat by refusing to allow the display of slain blogger Avijit Roy’s books during the Ekushe Book Fair. So much so that this year the Ekushe Book Fair took place under strict police scrutiny to identify and remove any element in any book that could in any way hurt the so-called religious sentiments of the right-wing.

Now Hefajat has come up with a new demand to remove the sculpture of Themis from the Supreme Court premise and replace it by a replica of the Holy Quran. This has unmasked many closeted right-wingers who have come out in open support of this demand.

It seems that the Jamaat-e-Islami has been successful in replacing true Islamic philosophy with its own brand of conservative religious politics.
Bangladeshi writer

Maskwaith Ahsan is an expatriated journalist and writer