ISSN: 1391 - 0531
Sunday, March 11, 2007
Vol. 41 - No 41

Truncated history lessons a strain on India-Pakistan ties

Across the Palk Straits by Kuldip Nayar

The Pakistan government's proposal to revise tainted textbooks in the country evoked an interesting discussion in the National Assembly the other day. The government wanted to revise history so as to include a chapter on Hinduism, Buddhism and ancient emperor Chandragupta Maurya.

Ruins of a Buddhist stupa in Pakistan’s Sindh province. School text books say very little about Pakistan’s glorious pre-Islamic past

The religious parties, however, were opposed to the proposal. They said that "their history starts from Mecca and Medina."

The government tried to justify the teaching of pre-Islamic history on the ground of learning and knowledge. Even members against the government supported it and argued that students should not be kept ignorant about the subcontinent history such as the Indus Valley or the Gandhara civilization. The National Assembly's Speaker, too, intervened to make the point that there was no harm in studying pre-Islamic history for the sake of knowledge as he and his contemporaries did in schools, colleges and universities. The National Assembly where the government raised the matter was divided not on the lines of party but on the attitude.

The liberal members were arrayed against the non-liberals. Yet, the government developed cold feet and referred the matter to a committee. This is one way of postponing the matter indefinitely. It looks that the revision of the books, if any, will now take place after new elections scheduled for the next year.

In the meantime, history books will continue to pollute the atmosphere between the two countries and play up the "wars" between Hindus and Muslims, with the latter always emerging victorious. Mohammaed Bin Qasim and Mahmud Ghaznavi, the first two Muslim invaders of India, are glorified for destroying kafirs (infidels).

Textbooks in Pakistan have been used to mould students, especially in schools, in a particular religious cast. History has been turned and twisted to serve the purpose. Since partition was on the basis of religion, the Pakistan government thought that the advent of Muslim rule in India was the best period from which the history should begin.

This was done long ago after the death of Qaide-e-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah who did not want to mix religion with the state. It looked odd not to connect with history the monuments belonging to the times of Mohenjadaro and Taxila standing visible in Pakistan. Yet the government did so. Students could see the anomaly and were confused.

The post-partition period was that of strengthening the Islamic ethos which could not be watered down by including the relics of Hinduism as part the heritage. But the Pakistan rulers could neither silence the conscientious objectors nor the foreigners who found the mutilation of history preposterous.

The debate did not abate at any time. Since there was no tall leader after Jinnah to join issue with religious leaders -- Liaquat Ali lived only for a short period -- the history books in Pakistan continued to skip the pre-Islamic Hindu rulers. Strangely, the British rule figured prominently.

Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, a popular leader, could have corrected the textbooks. But he wanted the mullahs on his side to withstand the pressure of military, a third chamber by that time. To placate religious leaders, he, in fact, declared the Qadian sect as non-Muslim, making it illegal for its followers to go even to the mosque. How could he have revised the history books?

It goes to the credit of President General Pervez Musharraf to broach the subject of rectifying the mistakes in textbooks and wanting to include in them the civilizations representing Mohenjadaro and Taxila. Religious forces are up in arms again.

The MMA (Muttehida Majlis-e-Amal) is in the forefront. It may raise the matter during the election campaign. Having been born in the spirit of jihad Pakistan has perforce to keep its spirit and tone alive. This is evident from the textbooks prescribed for classes VIII and IX. I glanced through at Lahore some time ago. The books correctly highlight the glories of the Mughal period: "In the entire history of the subcontinent no other dynasty acquired as much importance as the Mughal dynasty."

In contrast, the Hindu period is dismissed in one sentence: "The Hindus were not much interested in history and we have a very few historical records of this period." Dilating on the greatness of the Mughal rulers one of the books says: "The Hindus considered the king as the incarnation of god and considered it a religious duty to see him in the early morning."

Babar is described as changing the architecture of the Hindus because he "did not like it" and "he found the rooms so small that they were dark even in the day time." The Muslim buildings "were much larger and airy."

Shivaji is described as a person who believed "that all kind of deceit and treachery was fair in war" and one "who made no discrimination between the Hindus and Muslims in his plundering."

The downfall of the great Mughal Empire is attributed to this: "They had lost in the course of time their great spirit of jihad and self-sacrifice." In an introduction to Indian history and culture, prescribed for class VIII, the chapter on the Muslim invasion of Sind says: Its administration by Muslims was marked by political wisdom. Toleration was extended to the Hindus who came to be known as protected people and were allowed to stick to their faith and observe their religious practices in return for a tax called jizya, or poll tax."

India has seldom raised the question of history books with Pakistan at the ministerial level. It did so once when P.V. Narasimha Rao was the foreign minister. He pointed out at a meeting in Islamabad that India-Pakistan relations had been adversely affected because students in Pakistan were taught "biased" history.

It is a pity that not many in Pakistan follow Jinnah's liberal ideas. If he wanted to rewrite the history, he would have done so soon after the birth of Pakistan.The mindset of bureaucrats and the military have communalised the atmosphere in Pakistan more than that of the religious parties. History's mutilation is only one facet and that too a small one.

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Copyright 2007 Wijeya Newspapers Ltd.Colombo. Sri Lanka.