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Collective History and Identity - Anam Zakaria


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, ‘Afghanistan has Pathans or beautiful carpets’; sometimes the mention of Taliban and war will also resonate with them. They’ll mention that Iran has oil or that it’s a fellow Muslim country. ‘China makes everything’ they’ll say, or specifically point towards the Pakistan–China friendship. When it comes to India, though, the responses are the most conflicting. A few children will talk of Indian food or say that they have heard it is a very ‘colourful’ country. Some will mention the Taj Mahal or Bollywood. Others will straightaway speak of Partition. Sometimes there will be silence, at other times there will some snickering, some laughter. A few students will nervously say, ‘War’; others may mutter ‘Infidels.’ I recall one workshop in which a young girl raised her hand and said, ‘India has Shahrukh Khan.’ In response, a boy retorted, ‘He’s a Pakistani, stupid! He’s Muslim. Muslims can’t be Indian.’ Another said, India has nothing! They will all go to hell!’ When I asked them why, they replied that because the Hindus had been responsible for the massacre at Partition, that they were kafirs, traitors, treacherous people.

More recently, a Mumbai-based NGO reached out to initiate Skype sessions with Pakistani students. When I asked my students if they would be inclined to participate, one of them vehemently opposed the idea. She told me she had read in her textbooks that Indians were ‘horrible’ people and she didn’t see any point in talking to ‘them’. Another student whom I took with me to India in 2012 as part of CAP’s Exchange-for-Change program told me that, when he crossed the Wagah Border, he expected Sikhs to be standing there with talwars in their hands. He told me he had read in his Class 5 Urdu textbook that Sikhs slaughter children, cutting them into tiny pieces.

According to a study conducted by Gallup Pakistan, 76 per cent of Pakistanis have never met an Indian citizen. In a country with dwindling numbers of minorities, it is unlikely that most children have even come across a Hindu or Sikh either. However, it must be noted that because Pakistan’s creation is deeply embedded in Partition itself, it is impossible to avoid discussions around 1947 which in turn inevitably result in a discourse around India—and Hindus and Sikhs—from which Pakistan fought for its separation. Therefore, it may be argued that all Pakistanis find it imperative to think about India; since the majority have never met an Indian, it becomes necessary to imagine them. That imagination is fueled by textbooks and by biased teachers’ attitudes who have also studied from these textbooks. Prejudice, suspicion and mistrust thus mars the majority’s understanding of India and Hindus and Sikhs with which and with whom it sees the state as being synonymous with.

Partition is, then, seen as Pakistan’s biggest triumph. It is used to instill patriotism in Pakistan. It was ‘our’ victory over ‘them’. A ‘pure’ or ‘pak’ land was erected, separating it from the ill practices of Indians. Today, children do not know that August 1947 marks independence from colonial forces. In fact, even when Pakistani textbooks discuss colonization, they portray both the British and Indians as the enemies. For instance, a textbook excerpt from the 2013 Punjab Urdu Grammar and Composition book (Classes 9 and 10) states: ‘Englishmen were the ruler and Hindus were the enemy. Another reads, Sub-continent was governed by British. As they had snatched the rule from Muslims. They considered Muslims as their enemy and they did not sphere a single opportunity to slender and disgrace them. Flatters Hindus also sided with them.’ Yet another except from the same book states: ‘Due to British Hindu conspiracies, the condition of Muslims had become pathetic.’ Unlike Indian textbooks, the Divide and Rule policy is not delved into, for the notion is that Hindus and Muslims could have never been one to divide in the first place. Thus, every 14th August, it is independence from the ‘Hindu India’ that Pakistanis celebrate. British imperialism has faded away into an almost irrelevant footnote in their minds.

Of course, not all children swallow everything that is taught to them at school. Their family’s experience at Partition, their travel and exposure to Indians abroad or across the border and their access to alternative sources of information can certainly serve to challenge the textbook biases. But it does not help that even media, including social media sites, tends to present a particular version of the truth, often portraying all of Pakistan’s problems as a result of Indian meddling. With rising security threats and terrorist attacks in Pakistan, fingers are first pointed towards India and ‘Indian agents’ working to destabilize Pakistan. Students tell me that ‘India could never truly stomach the creation of Pakistan and has, since 1947, been trying to break the country.’ These sentiments are reinforced when TV anchors and news reports distort information and promote prejudiced news. In 2014, a local court was attacked by terrorists in Islamabad. The school that I teach at was just opposite the court and we were locked inside for a few hours. The next morning, as I tried to debrief the students, I found almost all of them insisting that the attack was orchestrated by India. Their rationale was simple: ‘We heard on TV that the suicide bombers had tattoos. Since tattoos are banned in Islam, they couldn’t have been Muslims. Even our parents said they must have been Indians.’

In my work on Partition, I have found that while personal histories can often serve to challenge state- sanctioned metanarratives, they too are influenced by the grand stories promoted by the state. As mentioned earlier, it is not possible to escape discourse around Partition in Pakistan. However, since the state needs to ensure that it justifies the creation of Pakistan based on the Two Nation theory, only certain Partition narratives can be promoted. These narratives repeatedly reinforce one-sided bloodshed, with Hindus and Sikhs projected as barbaric and Muslims as innocent victims. Rescue stories, narratives of intercommunal harmony, of nostalgia and longing for homes and lives left behind are conveniently obliterated. Partition survivors, who experienced the complexities of 1947, are also encouraged to forget certain memories in favour of more simplistic narratives. Hence, their testimonies which serve as evidence that, if anything, Partition can only be studied on a spectrum where experiences of violence and harmony often coexisted, have also been hijacked by the grand narratives of the state. Memory, after all, is not objective; it gets influenced by external events, it gets diluted over time.

In my work, I found that stories of bloodshed, rape and murder were on the tip of every tongue, that other narratives had receded to the background. In fact, even people who did not witness the violence had learnt to personalize the general stories of trauma. I would like to share my grandmother’s oral history here. Fortunately, she did not lose any family members to Partition. In her early 20s, she was based in Lahore in 1947 and actively volunteered at Lahore’s largest refugee camp to nurse the refugees back to health. For years, she would only speak of the blood strewn trains rolling in, of corpses and grave injuries. However, when I began to probe deeper, I learnt that there were many other stories that she remembered, many other experiences, but those she never shared. For instance, her Hindu friends Rajeshwari and Umma with who she had remained in contact with. Her sister being saved by a Sikh family in Amritsar; another sister being named after her father’s Sikh friend’s daughter. Many of these narratives had skipped generations, overtaken by the collective trauma of Partition and by the narrow one-sided understanding of events. The horror stories had left deep imprints, pushing other memories aside.

Even archaeological sites that have a rich Hindu past have been appropriated by the state. These sites are portrayed as Buddhist—seen as a more neutral religion—and their Hindu ancestry conveniently forgotten. A couple of years ago, I visited one of the oldest Hindu universities—that also served as a temple—in the heart of Sharda, a town in Neelum district, Pakistan-administered Kashmir. However, the signboards beside the site told me that it was no longer Hindu—the centre is now only known as an old Buddhist university. This more recent association with Buddhism has salvaged the damage of being associated with the Hindu faith; the monument has become a popular tourist site in Neelum Valley only after shunning its infidel and impure heritage. Today, travellers know only its Buddhist past, which is far more acceptable to the Muslims in the region than its Hindu ancestry. Were it not for the Buddhist history in the region, perhaps this university and temple too would have eroded like countless other temples on this side of the divide.

So while on the one hand Partition cannot be avoided in Pakistan for it brought about the formation of the country, on the other hand a holistic understanding of 1947 has never been encouraged. Students have to scavenge through half-told truths, tainted oral histories, biased media reports and hijacked historical sites. Which results in confusion, in vacuums, in growing suspicion and mistrust of the ‘other’. Whereas the Partition generations that witnessed the bloodshed firsthand also lived with the ‘other’ before they really became the ‘other’, the younger generations have to resort to the imaginary version of the ‘other’, one that is only growing more monstrous and demonic as we move further away from Partition and the Partition survivors who may be the only remaining hope of providing a more nuanced understanding of the past when identities were not as crystallized and when Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs could coexist.

So far, I have spoken about the state using Partition to instill patriotism and ‘otherizing’ India. It has done so by actively distorting history and accentuating certain truths that fit the national project. However, another tool used by the state that must be analysed is the instrument of silence. When the state finds a historical event or current reality an ‘uncomfortable truth’, it often censors the event altogether, in an attempt to wipe it out from the collective imagination. The two events that I would like to explore deeper in this regard are Kashmir and the creation of Bangladesh.

Since 2014, I have been working in Pakistan-administered Kashmir to understand how the conflict has impacted ordinary Kashmiris on this side of the Line of Control. Using the oral-history technique, I have sat with women and children, with refugees who crossed over from Indian-administered Kashmir in the 1990s to receive militant training or to simply escape the crackdowns, with nationalists who want as much independence from Pakistan as from India. It has slowly become evident through these conversations that the Pakistani state has, over the years, tried to undermine indigenous voices from this region to promote its own policies. ‘Azad’ Kashmir as it is referred to here, has been used to instill the idea that this side is the heaven from across the hell. In fact, ‘Azad’ Kashmir is only evoked in politics or in the media when there is firing from the other side or when ‘Azad’ Kashmiris are protesting Indian atrocities. In Pakistan at large, the discussion on ‘Azad’ Kashmir only takes place in the context of Indian-administered Kashmir. It is if ‘Azad’ Kashmiris do not have their own identity, their own politics. As if they are only worthy of mention if the Indian state has shelled or fired at them. They are only spoken of to show how bad the enemy is.

On a recent trip to Neelum Valley in Pakistan-administered Kashmir, I stopped by a book depot and scanned though Kashmiri textbooks. I found little focus on the history of Kashmir itself. It was as if Kashmir was already an accepted part of Pakistan. There was no need to teach students local languages and culture nor local history. And I found that where the history of the region was taught, albeit as a cursory lesson, it had many distortions. One passage from a Class 4 textbook on civic studies—written by the AJK textbook board—revealed a chronologically flawed and censored history of Kashmir in Urdu. Here is a translation of the passage:

In 1947 when Pakistan and Bharat gained independence, princely states were ruled by Nawabs and Maharajas. They had the right to choose between Bharat and Pakistan. Muslims were in majority in Kashmir and wanted to join Pakistan. Kashmir had a Hindu ruler, Maharaja Hari Singh, who ran to Bharat and against the wishes of the people, decided that Kashmir would join Bharat. In 1948, Indian forces entered Kashmir. The locals and refugees fought against these forces bravely. They managed to free a part of Kashmir and today this part is called ‘Azad’ Kashmir.[16]

This simplistic narrative of a very complicated history fabricates the facts of that time. It presents a black-and-white version of history, with no discussion of the events that may have led to the accession. There is no direct mention of the tribal raid, nor of any local resistance and revolt against Maharaja’s rule prior to accession. It is as if it is not necessary to teach children their own history, for fear that it may provoke critical thinking.

Locals tell me that in schools they learn that Kashmir refers to the part under Indian control; this part (referring to ‘Azad’ Kashmir) is already Pakistan. The word ‘occupation’, they are told, also only refers to Indian domination. By limiting the definition of occupation to Indian policies and by refusing to teach students Kashmiri history, culture and language, the state can effectively ensure Pakistani patriotism in Kashmiris and render obsolete any criticism of the state. The voices of the locals, their grievances and demands then recede to a marginal space, into a whisper that most Pakistanis never hear. Censorship of literature that may be deemed critical of state policies is also quickly banned. The state ensures that the only information that comes out of this part of Kashmir is what conforms to the ideology that Kashmir and Pakistan are one.

I would like to end this discussion by sharing some recent insights from my research on the 1971 war and the creation of Bangladesh. In many ways, just as India approaches Partition with a tinge of nostalgia—which is missing from the Pakistani narrative on Partition—and perceives it as a loss for the motherland, the creation of Bangladesh is viewed as a loss in Pakistan. In my review of Indian textbooks, I found many silences on the discourse of Partition. The Pakistan movement was seldom discussed and Partition was largely cast away as a result of the Divide and Rule policy of the British. The uncomfortable truths of the exploitation of Muslims and the reasons why the call for the creation of Pakistan gained so much support are largely avoided. Similarly, there is a silence in Pakistan about 1971. Compared to 1947, it receives little attention. Yet, because the war is so recent and it is necessary to delve into it to some extent, the state has linked it to the Two Nation theory and larger anti-India and anti-Hindu rhetoric prevalent in the country.

When a discussion on 1971 is evoked, while most people will acknowledge that Pakistan’s policies were unfair and unjust, they will soon claim that the creation of Bangladesh was inevitable because Bengalis were always closer to ‘Hindu culture’. References to women wearing saris and bindis, to Hindu professors and teachers and to the proximity to India will be made to justify the loss. It is as if it has become necessary to believe that East Pakistan had to break away—not because of Pakistan’s policies but because of its association with ‘Hindu culture’.

Chapter 3 of the Grades 9 & 10 Pakistan Studies Textbook, which is endorsed by the Federal Textbook Board, has a section titled, ‘The Fall of East Pakistan’. As it details the reasons for the growing resentment among Bengalis, India’s role in the dismemberment of East Pakistan is allotted the greatest space. It is alleged that:

The Indian leadership in general did not agree with the idea of creating a separate homeland for the Muslims. When Pakistan was created to their entire displeasure, they started working on the agenda of dismembering it without delay. East Pakistan’s soil probed very fertile for them for several reasons. Firstly, that the province had a very big Hindu population, which, unlike West Pakistan Hindus, had deep pro-India sympathies. Secondly, that these Hindus were economically well off and well educated. In many schools, colleges and universities Hindu teachers outnumbered Muslim teachers. These institutions with the passage of time virtually turned into nurseries for breeding anti-Pakistan and secessionist intelligentsia. These intellectuals played a decisive role in dismembering Pakistan. East Pakistani masses, which felt deprived and oppressed by West Pakistan fell an easy prey to the secessionists.[17]

The authors have found it imperative to highlight that East Pakistan held a ‘very big Hindu population’. As Hindus are perceived as the ‘other’ nation, a wing with a significant Hindu population was thus destined for separation. By presenting it as a given, it prevents children from questioning Pakistan’s own role in 1971 and the years leading up to the separation. The Bengali Hindus are equated with having pro-India sympathies; in order words, they were traitors who held loyalty to Pakistan’s biggest nemesis. First, by accentuating the existence of the Hindu population, with little focus on the number of Muslims in the region, children learn to ‘otherize’ East Pakistan, to treat it as alien, as a part that was never truly Pakistan. And then to project all Bengalis Hindus as pro-India is to swiftly cast away East Pakistanis as treacherous traitors, working behind Pakistan’s back and in the interests of its enemy. It is no wonder that the popular perception in the country is that the break up of East and West Pakistan is because of India. The language movement, the economic disparity, the social discrimination and the grave injustices meted out to the Bengalis, receive little attention. In fact, the language movement, one of the most significant causes of tension and conflict between the two wings, is presented as the last reason for the growing resentment in East Pakistan in the chapter. It is stated, almost as an afterthought, that:

A clash of opinion on the question of national language arose in the very early years after partition. Though the Bengali demand was conceded under the 1956 Constitution and Bengali was then recognized as one of the two national languages of Pakistan, yet the bitter memories of linguistic riots of the early years and of the resulting casualties kept taxing the Bengali mind.

In order words, though the Bengalis were given what they demanded, they remained unsatisfied, greedy for more. There is no discussion of almost a decade-long struggle to have the language recognized, during which people were killed and dozens injured and arrested while demanding a basic right which would not only give them a fair chance to excel in the education system and workplace but was also symbolic of a larger parity between the two wings, denied since the birth of Pakistan.

There is also no mention of Operation Searchlight, launched by the Pakistan army to ‘search’ or ‘hunt’ pro-liberation Bengalis, resulting in mass killings and rape. History focuses on the weeks prior to 25th March, emphasizing the violent and unruly behavior of East Pakistanis, and then fast-forwards to August 1971 when India signed the Indo-Soviet Treaty of Friendship and Cooperation and allegedly received Soviet backing to crush Pakistani forces in East Pakistan. Pakistan is then painted as a victim, forced to ‘fight against two enemies, an enemy from within and an aggressor from without’. It is stated that on 2 March, Sheikh Mujibur Rehman—popularly known as the Founding Father of Bangladesh—launched a disobedience movement. Thereafter:

Banks were looted and the administration came to a halt. Public servants and non-Bengali citizens were maltreated and murdered. Pakistan flag and Quaid’s portraits were set on fire . . . Awami League workers started killing those who did not agree with their Six Points programme. Members of Urdu speaking non-Bengali communities were ruthlessly slaughtered. West Pakistani businessmen operating in the East wing were forced to surrender their belongings or be killed in cold blood, their houses set on fire. Pro-Pakistani political leaders were maltreated, humiliated, and many of them were even murdered. Armed forces were insulted; authority of the state was openly defied and violated. Awami League virtually had established a parallel government and declared the independence of East Pakistan.[18]

Were Operation Searchlight and the resulting deaths discussed in any detail, which they are not, they too would be justified as a reaction to the ‘barbaric’ behaviour on part of the Bengalis. Hence, when India becomes ‘fully equipped for dismembering Pakistan’ after signing the treaty with USSR, the ‘loss’ of East Pakistan seems almost warranted in the collective memory.

These textbook passages, whether on Partition, on Kashmir or on 1971, show that Pakistan continues to view itself in opposition to India. The ‘enemy’-country image is repeatedly evoked to justify its own creation and its own policies. The idea of Pakistan remains fully entrenched in the shadow of the idea of India. Projecting India as the nemesis, as the infidel, as the treacherous, is necessary to portray Pakistan as the pious, the pak and the pure. The result is that ideology rather than history is taught in the country, with students being indoctrinated in hated and suspicion of the ‘other’.

The only hope for the future is that the linear one-dimensional narratives promoted by the state learn to accommodate the ‘uncomfortable’ truths, so that the post-Partition generations learn a holistic history of their past, in which the ‘other’ is humanized and where the complexities of our shared past are owned rather than discarded and distorted in the name of nationalism. These personal histories, which India, Pakistan, Kashmir and Bangladesh are fortunate to still have access to, are not threats to our national identities. Rather, they will only serve to strengthen our historical narratives, enable a better understanding of each other and guide us towards a more peaceful present.

[1] National Commission for Justice and Peace, Education Vs Fanatic Literacy (Sanjh Publications, March 2013), p. 6

[2] Ibid., p. 5

[3] Ibid., p. 6

[4] Ibid.

[5] The New York Times, ‘Pakistanis Attack 30 Hindu Temples’, 8 December 1992. Available at: (last accessed 2 December 2017)

[6] Ibid., p. 13.

[7] Ibid., p. 16.

[8] Ibid., p. 17.

[9] Ibid., p. 18.

[10] Ibid., p. 20.

[11] Ibid., p. 21.

[12] Ibid., p. 12.

[13] Ibid., p. 19.

[14] Ahmad, Jibran, ‘Pakistan province rewrites textbooks to satisfy Islamic conservatives’, Reuters. Available at: us-pakistan-education-idUSKBN0IJ1G820141030 (last accessed on 27 November 2014).

[15] National Commission for Justice and Peace, Education Vs Fanatic Literacy, p. 7.

[16] AJK Textbook Board, Civic Studies, Grade 4, p. 17.

[17] Textbook of Pakistan Studies, Grades 9 & 10, The Fall of East Pakistan, Chapter 3, p. 57.

[18] Ibid., p. 59.


Anam Zakaria is an author, development professional, psychotherapist and educationist with a special interest in oral histories, identity politics and conflict narratives. Her first book, Footprints of Partition:Narratives of Four Generations of Pakistanis and Indians, explores the shifting inter-generational perceptions of the 1947 Partition through 600 oral histories and won the German Peace Prize 2017. Her second book investigates the impact of the Kashmir conflict in Pakistan Administered Kashmir and will be released by HarperCollins in 2018. Anam is now working on her third book, focused on the 1971 war and the creation of Bangladesh. She has an academic background in International Development from McGill University and has previously worked as a director at The Citizens Archive of Pakistan, collecting oral histories from the Partition generation and religious minorities of Pakistan and connecting thousands of school children in India and Pakistan through a cultural-exchange programme.


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