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Pakistan: Seeds of hate

17 September 2012

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The News on Sunday - 16 September 2012

Seeds of hate

Critical analysis of textbooks being taught in primary schools shows how the literature of hatred is poisoning our young minds

by Waqar Gillani

“Hindus can never be true friends of Muslims” is one of the many such lines from Pakistan Studies of grade seven.

Incorrect, exaggerated and biased version of Islamic and Sub-Continent’s history are part of Pakistan’s textbooks. That is presumably to mould the nation’s emotions against India. Religious fundamentalism and hate against other religions, especially ‘enemy’ countries – like India – is part of textbooks to sow the seeds of hate in the country’s young minds.

A recent study Taleem Ya Nafrat Ki Aabiyari (Educating or nurturing hate), conducted by National Commission for Justice and Peace (NCJP), a non government organization working on human rights and minorities, identifies hate material and biases in the textbooks in Punjab and Sindh and education policy against religious minorities in Pakistan.

The study examines 22 textbooks for the academic year 2012-13, being taught in the provinces of Punjab and Sindh for grades 1–10. There are 55 chapters containing hate against Hindus, India, and Christians. Unfortunately, hate material and religious discrimination are still part of our curricula — social studies, geography and history.

The study shows that hate-based material in Punjab textbooks increased in 2012–13. In 2009, there were 45 hate speeches in the books, the number has increased to 122 in 2012-13.

Most of the hate material has found its way in the textbooks of Urdu and during the academic year 2009-11 in Sindh, 11 lessons carried portions of hate material. Critics point to this syllabus as main reason behind radicalisation of Pakistani youth and deteriorating education standards.

Besides showing evidence and trends of religious bias in textbooks from class 1-10 in Punjab and Sindh, the study also identifies biases against religious minorities in Pakistan in the education policy itself.

The textbooks say that during partition only Muslims faced violent attacks, loss of life and property loss and Muslims did not take part in the bloodshed. The whole treatment and arrangement of textbooks is discriminatory against non-Muslim citizens of Pakistan, violating Articles 18, 20, 22 and 25, of Constitution which guarantee equality and freedom to all.

Article 22 of the Constitution states: (1) “No person attending any educational institution shall be required to receive religious instruction, or take part in any religious ceremony, or attend religious worship, if such instruction, ceremony or worship relates to a religion other than his own; In respect of any religious institution, there shall be no discrimination against any community in the granting of exemption or concession in relation to taxation; and no citizen shall be denied admission to any educational institution receiving aid from public revenues on the ground of race, religion, caste or place of birth.”

The civil society has been raising voice on this issue for the past many years. However, successive governments turned a deaf ear to the voice of sanity. The education policy in 2009 also ignored the issue while the provincial government textbook boards, especially in Punjab and Sindh, failed to act against the practice.

The study underlines the need of serious reforms in the education sector in general and curriculum policy in particular. “Biases and preferences based on religion and belief in the syllabus are seen as divisive,” says Yousaf Benjamin, from NCJP who carried out this research.

“The objective of the study is to underline the need of education reforms and address the sensitive minds to think on such policies,” says Peter Jacob who has edited the report, adding “It has been noted that the biased syllabus is the main reason behind radicalization of Pakistani youth and deteriorating education quality.”

Draft of National Education Policy (NEP) mentions the ‘concept of tolerance, social justice and democracy, which is not reflected through NEP text”, says Jacob. “Knowing the fact the Pakistani society, especially the youth stands radicalized and the curriculum is one of the chief sources this policy is doomed to give way to another policy catastrophe.”

The civil society organizations maintain that no commitment has been made in the NEP draft about removing controversial material and arrangements in the syllabus in use which fans sectarian and religious discrimination.

There is, for instance, authorization of separate books for Sunni and Shia students and the Subject of Ethics for non-Muslims students. Moreover educationists, intellectuals and civil society organizations have time and again identified lessons reflecting religious biases and twisting of history, this critique has been completely ignored. Islamic Studies is compulsory from grade 1 to 12 which was previously taught from grade 1-10.

The subject of Ethics, a substitute given for Islamic studies is no choice for hundreds of thousands non-Muslim (Hindu, Christian, Sikhs) students. “Because in practice, taking Ethics in lieu of Islamic studies would result in increased religious discrimination, a majority of non-Muslim students are forced to study Islamic Studies,” says Jacob criticising parts of NEP.

“We demand that the current policy should be reviewed to incorporate a clear direction for removing lessons and subjects which have been identified as discriminatory and inflammatory against the minority faiths; and the subjects other than Islamic Studies should not have lessons and exercises about a single religion,” he says.

Dr Kaiser Bengali, noted economist, observes that the first 50 years of Pakistan witnessed seven educational policies, eight five-year plans, and different schemes and programmes to improve the literacy and raise the education standards. In 1951 the literacy rate of the country was 16.4 which came down to 16.3 in the next decade.” He recalls that in 1972 some modern techniques were introduced to raise education quality but later after 1977 all hoped ended when Ziaul Haq took over. He made key changes in the curriculum focusing on religion and the Islamic ideology.

To achieve the goal of quality education and for building a peaceful society, the NCJP study recommends that education and curriculum policies should be reviewed to incorporate a clear direction for removing lessons and subjects discriminatory against minority faiths. Moreover, a group of independent historians should be assigned to stem out distortion of historical facts in the textbooks.

The report suggests that subjects other than Islamic studies should be inclusive of other religions without discrimination and bias against anyone. It calls for arrangements for students belonging to Hindu, Christian, Sikh and other religious groups to study their own religions in lieu of Ethics as a substitute of Islamic Studies; and either no preference should be given or an equal treatment to students belonging to all religions should be ensured.

Prof Fazal-e-Rahim Murwwat, former chairman of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Textbook Board, has reportedly stated that such hate content causes fundamentalism in society. “The then military dictator Ziaul Haq used this syllabus of hatred to create religious and ethnic divides in the society. Such syllabus promoted extremism, intolerance, militancy, sectarianism, fundamentalism and religious ambitiousness.”