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Updated: Nov 23, 2020


This talk was presented on December 5, 2017 as part of The Idea of India – Bangalore chapter, hosted by and at Vidyashilp Academy.


The idea of India holds central importance in Pakistan; in fact, one can say that it is the idea of India that shapes the idea of Pakistan. The two hold a symbiotic relationship and it may be said that the way Pakistan is imagined in India, and the way India is imagined in Pakistan, holds eminence in the construction of national identity on both sides of the border. India argues that it is everything Pakistan is not—secular, democratic and tolerant. The portrayal of Muslims and Pakistanis in popular discourse as ‘barbaric’, ‘savage’ and ‘fundamentalist’ in many ways legitimates the creation of Pakistan, encouraging many Indians to perceive it as a blessing in disguise, one that rid the ‘tolerant India’ of the fanatic elements that crystallized in the shape of Pakistan in 1947. While my research in India has been limited due to logistical constraints, I have interviewed people who said that the nostalgia for the pre-Partition years they once experienced, the longing for unification they once exhibited, had eventually been taken over by a sense that they were better off without Pakistan. ‘Had Pakistan not been created, today India would have been dealing with all the issues that Pakistan is struggling with’—in other words, had the fanatic elements not left, they would have radicalized India. In fact, even as intellectuals worry about the rising intolerance in India today, comparisons with Pakistan remain at the centre. Comments such as ‘we are becoming like Pakistan’ or ‘at least we are still better than Pakistan’ show a deep-seated need to use Pakistan a symbol of everything India is not. It polishes the image of shining India, making it brighter, glossier.


In Pakistan, ‘otherizing’ India perhaps serves an even greater existential need. Simply put: without India there would be no Pakistan, not only in terms of geography but also in terms of its ideology. Carved out of the Indian subcontinent with the two-nation theory at its heart, over the past seven decades Pakistan has worked diligently to justify its existence by portraying India as the impure, demonic infidel that it had to separate from. History as a discipline was abolished in the 1970s and replaced with Pakistan Studies, a course which teaches the ideology of Pakistan. The current Pakistan Studies book, endorsed by the Federal Textbook Board, and taught across public and low-cost private schools across Islamabad states in its Preface: ‘The textbook has been written with a view to provide orientation on the Two Nation-Theory.’


According to a study conducted by the National Commission for Justice and Peace, ‘Indophobia and Anti-Hinduism were the driving factors responsible for the rewriting of school textbooks [in the late 1970s] in Pakistan in order to promote a biased and revisionist historiography of the subcontinent.’[1] The report goes on to state that,

‘In 1979 General Zia-ul-Haq conscripted his National Education Policy with a mission of manufacturing of “Good Muslims, Good Pakistanis” and the drivers were “jihadist Islam” and the “Ideology of Pakistan.” General Zia’s educational policy (1979) stated that ‘the highest priority would be given to the revision of the curricula with a view to reorganizing the entire content around Islamic thought and giving education an ideological orientation so that Islamic ideology permeates the thinking of the younger generation and helps them with the necessary conviction with ability to refashion society according to Islamic tenants.’[2]


The national education policies that followed also ensured that the ‘teachings of Islam’ held primary importance. In fact, the 1998–2010 National Education Policy emphasizes that, ‘We are not the country founded on its territorial, linguistic, ethnic or racial identity. The only justification for our existence is our total commitment to Islam for our sole identity.’[3] Even with General Pervez Musharraf came to power, he maintained that ‘it should be the purpose of education to inculcate in the child the Muslim value system.’ In 2007, it was further stated that ‘Islamic ideology must determine the education policy.’[4]


It is perhaps then no wonder that ‘history’ has been moulded and, more often than not, distorted in the name of educating children according to these ‘Muslim values’ and by censoring any material that may challenge this Muslim identity or the Two-Nation theory. The idea of Pakistan is closely linked with Islamic nationalism. Thus, Pakistan was not created in 1947; rather, textbooks teach children that Pakistan was born in 712 when Arab conquer Muhammad bin Qasim arrived to Islamize the region. Only recently have Punjab textbooks changed Pakistan’s date of birth to 1947 but only time will tell if other provinces will follow suit and if such changes will be sustained.

Over the years, this need to equate Pakistan with Islam has come at a great cost. To be a Pakistani is now perceived as synonymous with being Muslim, and that too a particular type of Muslim. By this definition, anyone who is not Muslim is also often construed as not Pakistani enough. This again can be explained in the context of the Two-Nation Theory. If Muslims could not coexist with Hindus and a separate country was necessary, then all Muslims should live in Pakistan, a country made in the name of Islam. Those who do not abide by the ‘right’ Islamic tenants, then, do not belong here.

Between 2010 and 2013, I was working for a local non-profit organization, The Citizens Archive of Pakistan or CAP as it is more commonly referred to. CAP is dedicated to the historic and cultural preservation of Pakistan. One of its programs, the Exchange-for-Change Program, sought to connect schoolchildren in India and Pakistan with the hope of facilitating dialogue and fostering better understanding. In my interactions with students in Pakistan, it quickly became evident that the majority of children found it difficult to separate nationalism from religion. Most of them were startled to learn about the number of Muslims still residing in India. A few asked if they were true Muslims at all; weren’t they traitors for staying back? For the others, all Muslims had to be Pakistani. So they told me that Shahrukh Khan was of course Pakistani; how could he be a Muslim and still be Indian?

Religious nationalism is increasingly the only type of patriotism that the children are familiar with, and is deeply embedded in the culture and the consciousness. To be a patriotic Pakistani is to be a good Muslim and vice versa. This not only means that criticism of state policies can be construed as criticism of religion since all state institutions insist that they are based on Islamic principles, it also means that religious minorities in Pakistan find themselves in a precarious situation. For instance, when anti-American sentiments are on the rise, Pakistani Christians come under attack. And when India–Pakistan relations sour, it is the Pakistani Hindus that become increasingly vulnerable. In 1992, in reaction to the demolition of the Babri Masjid, Hindu temples and members of the community faced severe backlash. According to a New York Times report, more than 30 Hindu temples were attacked across Pakistan on 8 December 1992. ‘In Lahore, thousands of people accompanied a bulldozer in demolishing an abandoned Hindu temple. Crowds set fire to six other temples and stormed the office of Air-India. “Crush India!” marchers shouted. “Death to Hinduism!”’[5] Children and adults alike refer to Pakistani Hindus as Indians, and so any anger towards India is directed towards the community perceived as representatives of the Indian state.

I would now like to share some textbook excerpts from the 2013 Punjab textbooks to shed light on how some of these perceptions are created and cemented over time:

‘Hindus got enraged and started the genocide of Muslims.’ Class 9 & 10, Essay Writing (Independence Day & Quaid-e-Azam). Urdu Grammar and Composition, (2012–13, Punjab Textbooks), pp. 82–83[6]

‘Hindu thugs started killing Muslims and burned their properties with the patronage of the government.’ Class 8, Political awareness of Muslims of South Asia. Social Studies (2012–13, Punjab Textbooks), p. 80[7]

‘Hindus also harmed Muslims in every possible way.’ Class 5, Pakistan an Islamic Country. Islamiyat (2012–13, Punjab Textbooks), p. 45[8]

‘Hindus can never become the true friends of Muslims.’ Class 5, Sir Syed Ahmad Khan. Social Studies (2012–13, Punjab Textbooks), p. 83[9]


And now some from the Cambridge syllabus, followed across British schools that cater to the middle and upper classes:

‘Whilst [the Congress Tyranny] was never an official Congress policy, Muslims feared that a major aim of their Hindu rivals was to erase Muslim culture . . . Muslims were forbidden to eat beef and received harsh punishments if they slaughtered cows. Azaan was forbidden and attacks were carried out on mosques. Noisy processions were arranged near mosques at prayer times and pigs sometimes pushed into the mosques. Muslims felt that if they lodged complaints with the authorities decisions would always be taken against them. Sometimes there were anti-Muslim riots in which Muslims were attacked and their houses and property set on fire.’ Classes 9 & 10, Nigel Kelly, ‘History and Culture of Pakistan’. Pakistan Studies (Peak Publishing UK, 2013), p. 83


‘The Wardha Scheme: An education scheme based on Gandhi’s views . . . Teaching was to be in Hindi . . . All students were expected to bow before a picture of Gandhi hung in their schools. Muslims saw these measures as an attempt to subvert a love for Islam amongst their children and convert them to Hinduism.’ Classes 9 & 10, Nigel Kelly, ‘History and Culture of Pakistan’. Pakistan Studies (Peak Publishing UK, 2013) p.83


It is well known that Islam, from its origin, has denounced idol worship and the consumption of pork. To shove what is haram or forbidden into a sacred place of worship, would amount to an outrageous offence to any religion. In Islam, the azaan, or call for prayer, forms an essential pillar of the faith. Muslims must pray five times a day, that is their duty. To be obstructed from performing this act or disrespecting the masjid is sacrilegious, to say the least. Similarly, bowing before a picture in Islam would, according to mainstream Islamic teachings, amount to shirk, one of the biggest sins a Muslim—or a human being, for that matter—can commit.


These instances of disrespect may not be entirely fabricated. However, when such episodic events are promoted as the typical behaviour of ‘them’ without providing a larger context, and when most children are not introduced to other realities—that many times Muslims have instigated attacks; that often people from the ‘other’ communities have even saved the lives of Muslims and vice versa—a rigid and distorted understanding of the ‘other’ takes birth.


The NCJP study that I referred to earlier shows that similar hate content is present in textbooks in Sindh. A few glaring examples include:

‘Since their belief and culture is different from non-Muslims, therefore cooperation with Hindus in any situation is impossible.’ Class 9, Pakistan Ideology. Urdu (2012–13), p. 42[10]

‘But as was their habit, Hindus deceived Muslims at every step.’ Class 8, Pakistan Ideology. Social Studies (2012–13), p. 101[11]

Frighteningly enough, the report concludes that the hate content in both Punjab and Sindh textbooks is increasing over the years. Conducting a comparison between textbooks used in 2009–2011 and 2012–2013, it notes that while in Punjab ‘there were 45 lines of hate material in the syllabus books for 2009 [. . .] the number increased to 122 in 2012’.[12]Similarly, in Sindh, in 2009, there were 11 chapters consisting of hate material; but this had increased to 22 by 2012.[13]

In Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province, too, this trend is being followed. While the provincial government led by the Awami National Party (ANP) had undertaken promising reforms after 2008, the new leadership spearheaded by the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) that came to power in 2013 began reversing that impact. The ANP government had removed some of the verses on jihad from the elementary- and secondary-school syllabus, as they were deemed unsuitable for consumption by young students. But these verses were reinserted while pictures of girls with uncovered heads and dresses and of non-Muslim personalities were deleted (for example, of Raja Dahir, the prominent Hindu ruler of Sindh and parts of Punjab). According to Atif Khan, the provincial education minister: ‘The previous government [. . .] had made some changes in the curriculum and removed sections from syllabus. Those changes didn’t suit our Islamic society.’[14]

Many academics, policy analysts and intellectuals have over the years criticized the textbook curriculum, concerned by the blatant hate sentiments promoted at the school level. According to Tariq Rahman, renowned professor and researcher: ‘Pakistani textbooks cannot mention Hindus without calling them cunning, scheming, deceptive or something equally insulting.’[15]

The question is: How much do these textbooks impact students and shape their perceptions of Hindus and India? In this context I would like to share a few anecdotes from my classroom interactions. Often one of the first questions I ask students is to identify their neighbouring countries and then share the first thing that comes to mind when they think of these countries. Children will often say, ‘Afg