Conflict and Violence in the Educational Process


Khurshid Hasanain and A. H. Nayyar


In any modern nation-state, education is a highly organised activity with a hierarchical structure. The government and its educational bureaucracy sit at the top controlling the flow of funds and privileges to the lower tiers. With the help of the vast network of state universities, colleges and schools, and the thousands of teachers working as government employees, and with the curriculum, the system of examination and text books all defined by it, the state's power to impose a particular mindset can be almost unchallenged. This is especially so in countries still struggling to build effective systems of institutional checks and balances.


This essay will detail how the educational process in Pakistan contributes to exacerbating and prolonging rather than resolving the crises and conflicts confronting the people. We shall try to show that the cumulative effect of educational acts of commission and omission by the state has been to create an intolerant mindset, deeply susceptible to chauvinistic slogans and calls for violence, and unwilling to accept the diversity of beliefs and cultures that exists within the country.


Before looking at how curriculum and textbooks in particular serve this purpose it is important to point out that in Pakistan the entire process of education, from designing curricula to classroom instruction, suffers from a systemic problem. There exists a strong belief, one could almost call it a cultural compulsion, that knowledge is not a creation of mankind, but something that is given or revealed, and hence to be accepted as such. Whatever is given out as knowledge therefore becomes unquestionable. There are unique answers and unique interpretations. There is no place for plurality of ideas and coexistence of conflicting views.


In such a situation, the teacher as the giver of knowledge acquires the status of an authority whose words are final and unquestionable. It is most uncommon to find teachers encouraging students to view the subject matter of lessons critically. In fact, a critical attitude on the part of the students often provokes a violent response from the teacher. Not surprisingly, textbooks acquire a similar status with students and teachers alike placing an almost blind faith in the written word.


This suppression of the thinking process is in itself an act of violence on minds. Human-beings by nature are inquisitive and creative. Education, and particularly the process by which it is imparted, is meant to sharpen these faculties. When, instead, they are stifled and energy is not allowed to be channelled towards creative work, the ever-present possibility of creating a rational human-being is eliminated. In the process, a mindset is created which cannot tolerate disagreements, and can only respond to them with violence.

The Purpose

Pakistan's curriculum is designed by the educational bureaucracy and as such reflects the priorities and goals of the state. Textbooks, particularly at school level, serve as the basic source of information for students besides being the foremost expression of the objectives desired by the curriculum. Together they constitute the necessary institutional cohesiveness, memory and continuity that allows an educational system to act as a national social process to shape children's minds.


The most recent national curriculum document, which determines what is taught in all government schools, was prepared by the Ministry of Education in 1994. It lists the following as some of the purposes of teaching the national language, Urdu. The student should:

a) be able to take pride in the Islamic way of life, and should try to acquire Islamic knowledge and to adopt it;


b) read religious books in order to understand Quranic teachings;


c) listen to events from the Islamic history, and should be able to derive pleasure from them (khushi mehsoos karen);


d) also know that national culture is not local culture or local customs (our emphasis), but it means the culture whose principles have been determined by Islam.


Since identity is constructed in large part through language, the overwhelming impression from reading this set of objectives is that the learning of language itself has to serve Islamic religious purposes, and is to hold even for those students who may not be Muslims. Thus the image that the child develops right from the start is that there is a special place for the Muslims and the 'Islamic' way of life which overrides the right of all citizens to be viewed as being equal and to take full pride in their own ways of living and beliefs.


The most amazing of the purported objectives, however, is the one which seeks to convince students of the divorce of national culture from any regional or local context. In other words what exists as culture, and what the child experiences and lives in, are not the real culture. Rather, it is something else transcending the child's own reality. This view, of course, conveniently overlooks the fact of an actually existing regional and local culture which encompasses the cultures and identities of various religions.


Such a construction of culture points the way for a later structuring of the learning of history. History and Pakistan studies textbooks rarely mention the ancient and non-controversial cultures of the Indus valley (Moenjodaro, Harrappa and Kot Diji), and completely bypass the entire Buddhist and Hindu periods of history. They suddenly jump to the advent of Mohammed bin Qasim in India and treat it as the beginning of history for all practical purposes. The specific ideological basis of this structuring is to make children regard the Muslim part of the history as the only relevant and certainly the most significant part. This process reaches its culmination with the specific learning objective suggested by the curriculum:


To understand the Hindu Muslim differences and the resultant need for Pakistan


In view of such politically motivated suggestions from the curriculum, it is not surprising that the textbooks have a markedly communal and even chauvinistic attitude. The Class I textbook of the Punjab textbook board declares:


Pakistan is our country. We live in our country. Pakistan is an Islamic country. Muslims live here. Muslims believe in one God. They do good deeds.


The implications of the above statements are very obvious. The country belongs to Muslims, and others do not really have any claim to it. This of course is justified by the logic that doing good deeds is expected of Muslims alone. It is clear that by implanting these notions in the minds of children, and omitting any favourable mention of the minorities in Pakistan or peoples of other faiths outside Pakistan, the books sow the seeds of contempt and conflict.


The Hindu

Following the instructions given as 'Specific Learning Objectives' in the curriculum for Pakistan/Social Studies for Class V, namely "to understand the Hindu and Muslim differences and the resultant need for Pakistan", the writers project Hindu-Muslim differences. A survey of textbooks reveals this theme running through them all the way up to the graduation level. It can be summarised as follows: Muslims and Hindus lived always in a deeply hostile and antagonistic relationship. The Muslims were broadminded, accommodating and brought enlightenment to an otherwise inhuman society characterised only by the caste system and the practice of Sati.


The class 4 text book states:


The religion of the Hindus did not teach them good things -- Hindus did not respect women...


Another book tells the students:


Hindus worship in temples which are very narrow and dark places, where they worship idols. Only one person can enter the temple at a time. In our mosques, on the other hand, all Muslims can say their prayers together.


For another, the Hindus as a monolith were always cunning, scheming, and conspiring to deprive the Muslims of their due rights:


The Hindus always desired to crush the Muslims as a nation. Several attempts were made by the Hindus to erase the Muslim culture and civilisation. Hindi-Urdu controversy, shudhi and sanghtan movements are the most glaring examples of the ignoble Hindu mentality .


If the Hindus had any national aspirations then these were clearly a sign of their prejudices, while if the Muslim kings and invaders plundered Hindu temples then presumably they did so with very noble intentions.


The experience of colonialism is described in a textbook as a British-Hindu conspiracy:


The British joined forces with the Hindus to bring harm to the Muslims. Muslims tried in every way to maintain good relations with the British and Hindus, but they did not allow it to be so.


This typecasting of Hindus as a nation of collaborators in league with their colonial masters is typical. The entire freedom struggle is thus represented as though it was primarily a struggle of Muslims against a joint force of British and Hindus:


Exploiting the anti-Muslim policy of the British, the Hindus fully collaborated with them and obtained all kinds of monetary benefits. The British opened the doors of government service to them and also encouraged them in trade and commerce.


One book declares:


He (Mr. Jinnah) wanted to establish here a separate homeland for the Muslims . The Hindus did not like this and became his enemies. The English were also with Hindus.

Descriptions of the traumas of partition and the horrors that occurred are treated in a similarly biased manner:


While the Muslims provided all type of help to those wishing to leave Pakistan, the people of India committed cruelties against the Muslims (refugees). They would attack the buses, trucks, and trains carrying the Muslim refugees and they were murdered and looted.


It is hard to see such material as anything but an effort to fill young minds with hatred against an enemy, rather than against the acts of depravity and savagery committed by both sides.


Significantly, Sikhs are spared the same treatment in the textbooks. This is despite the fact that East and West Punjab witnessed the most savage acts of violence. This points to a desire for the fiction of a simple bipolar conflict of Muslim Pakistan and Hindu India.


The historical and cultural inevitability of Hindu-Muslim conflict and the attendant creation of irrational hate against Hindus are not confined to the curriculum and textbooks for young children in government primary schools. It continues all the way up to the degree level and extends even into the private education sector. No sector of education is immune.


A few examples from a textbook on Pakistan Studies for Intermediate and Senior Cambridge classes, which is prescribed even in the elite English-medium private schools, are given below to highlight the seriousness of the problem, and to gauge from this the extent to which such books are contributing to irrationality and intolerance in elite society. The authors teach at the prestigious Government College Lahore, and Aitchison College Lahore respectively. The book states:



This is only a sample. The entire book is interspersed with statements like the above. What the authors hope to achieve, and are perhaps quite successful in their attempt, is to create hate for Hindus, and in the process to create an enemy image. But it would be wrong however to suggest that this is done in a seamless and complete substitution of an imagined history for real events. There are glaring contradictions everywhere. For instance, Rabbani and Sayyid state at several places that the British patronised Hindus in order to crush Muslims, yet go on to say that the Hindus joined the 1857 mutiny, in one place even saying that they were equally responsible for the rebellion. They also admit that Muslims extracted (extraordinary) concessions from the British - including a separate electorate, a quota in the services, and the partition of Bengal. Similarly, they claim that the Indian National Congress turned into a pure Hindu organisation aimed at destroying Muslim culture, imposing Hindu nationalism upon Muslims and exterminating Muslims from the Indian society. Yet they are forced to admit at several places that many Muslims, including scholars like Maulana Abul Kalam Azad and Dr. Zakir Hussain, were among the top leadership of the Congress. Quite conspicuously, the book fails to mention that a very large number of Muslim ulema at the time, including Maudoodi, had opposed the creation of Pakistan.


The most charitable explanation of these and other glaring contradictions can be that the authors are not smart enough to have noticed them. A conclusion nearer to the truth would be that the contradictions are a result of deliberate distortions. The effect of these on a student is another matter. If the student notices these contradictions, and it is hard to not notice them, the student is expected to either ignore them and learn by heart selected topics to reproduce in examinations. A second, more dangerous, thing to learn is that there is no such thing as logical consistency in arguments and that there is nothing wrong in being contradictory.


As if this was not enough, education in Pakistan is now such that even the history of recent events, i.e. those within the lifetime of the parents of many of the children using these books, is not spared. For example while describing the events relating to the war of 1965 the book for Class 4 declares:


India always took initiative in souring relations between the two countries




on September 6, 1965, India launched an attack at the Lahore border without declaring war. Pakistani forces gave a befitting reply, and captured many Indian territorial areas"


A little later the same book describes the outcome of the war as:


At last in the face of the valour of Pakistani soldiers and the people, the Indians surrendered.


The text on Muasherati Ulum for Class V says in the same context:


In the face of defeat, India pleaded with the UN to stop the war. The war ended and Pakistan returned the Indian territories.


Not to be outdone, the book of Pakistan Studies "Mutalia-e-Pakistan" for classes 9 and 10 states, in the context of the separation of East Pakistan:


In 1971 while Pakistan was facing political difficulties in East Pakistan, India helped anti-Pakistan elements and later on attacked Pakistan. As a result of this war in December 1971, the eastern wing of Pakistan separated and appeared as Bangladesh on the world map.


As may be evident, both these selections suffer from gross omissions related to the events leading to the two wars in which the adventurism of the Pakistani establishment (the 1965 war) or the systematic policy of keeping the Bengalis out of power (the 1971 war) played a key role in precipitating the respective crises. These are classic examples of presenting historical events in such a manner as to absolve the Pakistani state of its fair share of the blame while laying the entire onus for these catastrophes on enemies.


The History of History

The approach to history found in current textbooks is not a new phenomenon. The tradition of distortions in the written history of Pakistan is as old as Pakistan itself. The atrocious distortions seen today are built on earlier history texts written by ideologues like Ishtiaq Hussain Qureshi, for whom the distortion of facts about the movement for Pakistan was necessary to justify a particular view about the formation of the new state. For these early writers, the problem was to write a history of a people that did not satisfy the prevalent and generally accepted definition of a nation at a time when opponents of the creation of Pakistan, both Muslims and Hindus and particularly Indian nationalists, were questioning the legitimacy of the new state.


The solution these ideologues found was to put the two-nation theory of the pre-partition days on a strong pedestal, at least for Pakistanis. To achieve this, not only were some events of recent history presented with coloured arguments, but also some events were selectively omitted if they came into conflict with the theory. In particular, the political points that the Muslim League used in its forward thrust after the 1937 election debacle and the events leading to the 1940 Lahore Resolution were presented in a way that created an irrational hatred against Hindus as a community. This tendency laid the foundation of all subsequent official history of the Pakistan movement.


The history textbooks written in the early years of Pakistan attempted to establish the two-nation theory, and also needed to show that the Muslims would not have been happy in a united India dominated by a Hindu majority. Influenced particularly by the carnage of partition, Hindu-Muslim conflict was highlighted. But the history textbooks were still somewhat objective in the sense that the presentation of facts was not as selective and as distorted as it is now. The history of the great Hindu kingdoms was also told, as was the contribution of everyone in the freedom movement irrespective of his or her religious affiliation. Yet the recent history of the Pakistan movement, coloured by the demands of the two-nation theory, combined to create a strong enemy image of Hindus.


The art of writing history took another turn for the worse during Zia-ul-Haqs dictatorship, when the hitherto obscure notion of an 'Ideology of Pakistan' took centre stage. Much has been written about the distortions of history introduced in this period. What is important here is that the urge to establish the so-called 'Ideology of Pakistan' meant throwing objectivity overboard. The authors of both the curriculum as well as textbooks proceeded to create irrational hate with an unprecedented vengeance.


It is the permanency of these latter distortions that is now astounding. They persist despite the recognition that the concept of an 'ideology of Pakistan' was a vehicle used by Zia-ul-Haq to legitimise his rule and by Jamat-e-Islami to further its politics and even though the Jamat-e-Islami no longer enjoys state patronage and staunch anti-Zia political forces have held state power a couple of times. Their survival in the education system is a testament to the fundamental way in which curricula were changed at all levels -- from the very elementary classes to university, and because of the halo still surrounding the so-called ideology of Pakistan.


The Crisis

In addition to the many serious errors and the hostile messages generated by the textbooks in their eagerness to construct a picture of the historical development of Pakistan based on the so-called ideology of Pakistan, there are also very serious acts of omission.


One obvious omission is the place of minorities in the history of Pakistan. The acknowledgement that philanthropists and concerned people from these communities laid the foundations of many educational institutions, hospitals and social welfare schemes for both Muslims and non Muslims alike, in the cities now comprising Pakistan, would have given a greater sense of dignity and participation to these communities. Recognition of men such as A.R. Cornelius, Dorab Patel and Zafrullah Khan, among many others, who made major contributions to Pakistani society, would have created a sense of fraternity with the minorities.


The pervasive attitude in our textbooks, however, is that only Muslims can be good, courageous and patriotic Pakistanis. This rules out the possibility of any attitude above the level of petty chauvinism. It should come as no surprise to have witnessed what happened outside the court where two Christian youths accused of blasphemy were acquitted by the judge. A hostile crowd reacted wildly to the verdict by smashing cars and chanting death threats to the acquitted, their defenders and the judge. The unfortunate judge was later murdered brutally.


An even more fundamental omission from the educational system is one of context. Textbooks make every possible effort to maintain a sharp delineation between politics and economics, both in their discussion of the past and of more recent events. Ancient history appears simply as the chronicle of kings and their conquests or defeats, sometimes punctuated with references to communal differences. There is no mention anywhere of how the modern concepts of states and nations emerged, or how various periods in history were marked by different property and class relations, and how these can be used to understand social reality.


The saga of the recent (post independence) period is told only in terms of successive regimes, their conflicts with India and their attempts to expand ties with neighbours and Islamic countries. There is no mention of the various trends in our foreign alignments, e.g. pro-western and anticommunist, for the entire period of the cold war or what those alignments meant, or why and how the world has changed in this respect. The Chinese people and our friendship with them finds a mention at some places, but again in the same abstract way, i.e., not as a country with a very specific social and economic system but as our great and friendly neighbour who has always stood by us in times of difficulty.


Despite these textbooks being about the history of Pakistan not even a single paragraph mentions political developments in any serious way that would explain why the country disintegrated into two parts in1971, all the pious proclamations of religious brotherhood notwithstanding. Nor why the country has remained under military rule for a good twenty of the fifty years of its existence, or why poverty and illiteracy still plague the land.


While it is admittedly not easy to discuss contemporary events freely and dispassionately, it certainly remains possible, as some better (i.e. for the elite) textbooks show, to critically evaluate the past using modern political concepts. But the problem government sponsored text book writers face is a serious one. To discuss the concepts and relationships of feudalism in the past risks questions about their persistence in our society. To talk of the age of enlightenment and humanism, or to mention the slogans of "Liberty, Equality and Fraternity" in the context of the French Revolution, begs the question of why these are not applicable to our own society, still saddled with the baggage of social hierarchy, severe class differentials, and military domination.


Pakistan, while not being manifestly ideological in its social organisation, uses an ideology to perpetuate certain class privileges and monopolies over power, decision making, expression and consumption. The preservation of status quo in favour of the ruling elite becomes the touchstone for acceptability, indeed of the legality of ideas and mindset. Education is required in such a situation to serve the purposes not of liberating but enslaving the minds. It serves to propagate the wisdom and truth of the dogmas advantageous for the elite, and suppression of facts and attitudes inimical to those ends.


As a result of the twin demands, self imposed, of defining the Pakistani state and identity in purely religious terms and of not questioning the social and economic status quo, the scope of the educational process in generating any political and social awareness is severely limited. In turn, this lessens the ability of any political party with a serious agenda of reform or individuals even of impeccable pro-people credentials, to make any electoral impact.


But, instead of facing up to its failures the education system sticks to a process of memorising and reproducing dead, and often distorted facts verbatim. Not surprisingly then it produces frustrated, unemployed youth with no skills either for economic survival or social analysis. Lacking the tools of social and political organisation or consciousness, they are turning in increasing numbers towards crime or towards militant sectarian and ethnic outfits based on primitive loyalties of biradari, clan, ethnicity and sect where instinctive bonding replaces one formed by a rational social choice.


This tendency is not confined to the poorly educated. It is to be found among College and University students and is witnessed by the way that student organisations have degenerated from being programmatic and political to being based on ethnicity and sectarianism. In recent years 'politics' in the educational institutions in Punjab has come to be dominated by the Jat-Arain biradari divide, while urban Sindh has seen the emergence of the Mohajir Students Organisation with allegiances cutting across class and ideological boundaries. An even more recent phenomenon are the student groups associated with militant Shia and Sunni sectarian formations.


This latter development points to another small but menacingly growing corner in the educational landscape of Pakistan where a different kind of intolerance and hate is being cultivated. These deeni madaris (religious schools) are growing in numbers and enrolment. The older students in them are taught through sectarian polemics with pungent criticism bordering on hate. The dogmatic mindset created by the madaris is therefore highly intolerant of other faiths and now feeds an increasingly militant sectarian conflict. Not content with this, some madaris are reported to provide military training to their students.


The sectarian divide between Shias and Sunnis and within Sunnis is not new. It has existed since the resurgence of religious schools in the sub-continent in the later half of the nineteenth century. The first large darul-ulum at Deoband was Sunni. Its founders, Maulana Mohammad Qasim Nanotvi and Maulana Rashid Ahmed Gangohi, both wrote polemical commentaries challenging the veracity of the Shia faith. Among the Sunnis, the Barelvi school upheld the custom-laden mystic (sufi) religious practices around shrines, and challenged the puritanism of the Deobandi school. The Ahl-e-Hadith were even more fundamentalist in outlook than Deobandis. A joint target of all these sects was the new sect of Ghulam Ahmed of Qadian, which was later unanimously ex-communicated from the pale of Islam.


Given such beginnings, the madrassa curricula had to have discussions on these differences. These 19th century sectarian critiques, along with modern derivatives, are part of the curriculum even today. For example, the Wafaq ul Madaris (Deobandi) curriculum has the following topics and texts in their grade Aaliah (13th and 14th years of schooling). The list below contains a selection from a prescribed bibliography on the critique of Christianity, Judaism, atheism, Qadiani faith, Shiaism, Barelvi faith, Ahl-e-Hadith, and the teachings of Abul Ala Maudoodi:



It is hard to imagine a process of education less likely to contribute towards a strong commitment to increasing tolerance and democratisation in society. There is no prospect within such a system of creating doubt, of raising questions, of provoking thought, and certainly no possibility of challenging the finality and superiority of the presuppositions and biases that are being taught. It is mind control, propaganda and indoctrination masquerading as an educational process.



The Pakistani state has intervened in the educational process in two fundamental ways. First, it has encouraged students to be uncritical, submissive to authority and treat education as a process simply of memorising certain 'facts'. At the same time, it encourages teachers to adopt the authoritarian attitude required for establishing the finality of their word and those in textbooks. Second, it has enforced the distortion of historical facts in textbooks, encouraged religious chauvinism and glorified militarism. It has also deprived students of role models who could have inspired and motivated them towards creativity and to address the conflicts of their society in a humanistic, compassionate and intelligent manner.


The violence manifest in Pakistani society reflects the failure to try to create a critical mindset and a social consciousness. It is an indicator of a people incapable of attacking the roots of their social and political disempowerment, turning upon themselves in a masochistic rage.