Bred on hatred, ready for the Bomb

Be it India or pakistan, the state, the mainline media, teachers and text- books, and the family connive to poison young minds


However different the focus and approach of over 28 different peoples’–level peace efforts between Pakistan and India in the past half century, it is not insignificant that scores of individuals and organisations involved in these efforts have, while owing allegiance to varied initiatives thrown up similar conclusions.

A common resolution at the end of every India–Pak peace conference is to work towards a winding down of the hate/hysteria consciously spawned about “the other” by the respective states of India and Pakistan, by large sections of the mainline media of both countries, and, most spuriously, by our respective text books and oral education in schools. The rather less visible but more permanent impact of prejudice and stereotype unleashed within the family is a factor that also needs to be taken into consideration.

The fact that the Pakistan-India rhetoric often gets blurred and confused into the dialectics of the Muslim–Hindu discourse with its own set of imposed prejudices is, in a sense, unavoidable given the peculiar circumstances behind the creation of both countries, a division of two nation states on communal lines. So, if Pakistan was sought and attained as a “land of the pure” for Muslims, post–1947, community lore in majority India, spawned consciously and systematically by Hindu right wing organisations like the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and the Hindu Mahasabha, has created an army of young minds, prepared to hold and defend the motherland’s honour (from future divisions) for whom the country carved out was “Paapistan” (land of the sinner) and remains as such, sinister in design, even today.

Pakistan’s text books manipulated history and even systematically demonised any evidences of composite cultures or united struggles or shared allegiances of region or language outside religion. But ours have not been unblemished either. If the shared history of several thousand years was sought to be overlooked by the systematic attempt to Islamise history in Pakistan, a process during which even the word ‘Hindu’ was demonised, our own systematic efforts, at one level more subtle, at another as crude, have not been unblemished.

Columns on these pages in the past have dealt with the demonisation of today’s Indian Muslims and the marginalisation of other minorities through, among other things, the systematic manipulation and distortion of historical events (“invasions and attacks by Mohammedans” among other things) and images to suit the Hindu communal design. For today’s argument, however, I shall restrict myself to the Pakistan-India discourse and attempt to show how even “superior and magnanimous India’s text-books” have not just been singularly wanting but served the overall purpose of both nation states post–1947 — that is, keeping hate sentiments on the boil. A book of national songs (“Hamare rashtra geet”) used in schools and recommended in the curriculum in New Delhi and some parts of Uttar Pradesh has two songs that bear mention. One, called Pakistan ki jhanki (A glimpse of Pakistan) and the other titled Pakistan ki history (The history of Pakistan.) seek to whip up sustained contempt and aversion to a neighbour, “a country of the devil carved out of the motherland.

Hamara Itihas aur Nagrik Jeevan, (Our history and civic life), the part 3 text book for schools in UP has a chapter, number 13, on “Our Neighbouring Countries.” After lamenting at the outset of this section that poverty, famine, drought and disease are the outcomes of war, the first para concludes: “at the time of the 1962 Indo–China and 1965 and 1971 Indo–Pak wars, it is evident that it was because of the selfishness of the leaders of our neighbouring countries and their expansionist policies that they declared war on our great, peace–loving nation and disrupted our progress.”

In the sub–section in the same chapter that deals with Pakistan particularly, the text book reads: “Pakistan is our closest neighbour. Before Independence, a part of India…To date, the history of Pakistan is one of sectarian strife, political assassination, individual aggrandisement and conflict….. Fundamentalism, fanatical sloganeering and mass hysteria have marked Pakistan’s governance. Its leaders have used such sloganeering to divert the attention of their toiling masses from real issues…India has always believed, and followed a policy that it is only through friendship and co–operation that India and Pakistan can progress. Even today we carry the hope our relations with Pakistan improve and both developing nations grow with speed towards prosperity.”

Do these words display scant honesty to facts and a fair share of superiority? Has the Indian leadership always been magnanimous in extending a hand of friendship to the land and people across the border? Was the 1971 war launched by Pakistan? Did former prime minister Indira Gandhi and now Atal Behari Vajpayee never use the forever convenient “external threat” to let loose a fear psychosis, win an election, declare Emergency, test the bomb?

Our hope however is the minds of the young. The great thing about young minds is their hyper–activeness, their abiding curiosity, their desire to shock and scandalise and — what may defy any such demonising efforts eventually — their ability to pursue a strand of thought that challenges them to take a fresh or new direction. The rider however is that one makes sustained and consistent efforts to open channels of communication with them.

That has been my experience with Aman, the South Asia studies and Peacepals programme. Launched on a hunch with the abiding support of Mrs. Gomti Venkateshwar, former principal of the Bombay International School, Mumbai and Mr. Sami Mustafa, principal of the Centre for Advanced Studies, Karachi, we have together ensured that over 75 children between Karachi and Mumbai are in regular touch with each other. Writing letters, asking questions, having arguments and disagreements even… but communicating.

How did we begin? It was close to August 1996, the onset of the 50th year of Independence for both countries. Through my research for Khoj, the secular education module that is being compiled, and my obsession for different facets of the struggle for Independence against the British, gross lacunae in our printed text–books had begun to stare me in the face.

Believe it or not, despite half a million lives lost and over eight hundred thousand persons displaced during partition, followed by a half century of reflection on the tragedy, our text books and our teachers had nothing more than trite phrases laced with the ever-prevalent prejudice to offer to future generations on Partition.

A period that had caused unimaginable trauma and displacement, scarred lives, distorted visions, even reassured some with hope in humanity. But we refused to impart fair and even–handed knowledge to our children. Formation of the Muslim League, Mohammed Ali Jinnah, Lahore Declaration, Direct Action Day — these are the four sub–heads with three paras each that we deal with the entire period. The result? Confusions, question marks, ripe condition for manipulation and prejudice coming from other sources to breed.

We were going into the 50th year of independence of both countries. What better start to the next 50 years than opening up a channel of communication between some children of India and Pakistan. Freeing them of “our”, “the adult” burden that we have been forcing them to carry all these years, and allowing them, as all genuine learning should, to make their own choices, ask their own questions, make up their own minds.

I asked one batch of the children at BIS in Mumbai if they would like to write to children in Pakistan, become penpals with them. On two conditions, was the startling, but actually predictable, reply: Provided you first do a module on Partition — why, how, what happened? And Kashmir — why and what is happening with us? Done. We had a detailed discussion on the two subjects requested and animated, excited and endless discussions that followed. Only after that did the Peacepals exchange begin. It is, fortunately, still continuing.

What is as heartening is that through CC’s Learning pages and Khoj pull-out (it will resume next month), the message of Aman has spread to a wide network of readers. And youngsters — who have joined in the Aman exchange, desirous of a friend across the border, perturbed by the latest round of hate–mongering which has reached unprecedented proportions with the testing of nuclear bombs by first India and then Pakistan — write to us every month.

Apart from Syed Hasan Zia Rizvi of Class VII’s touching poem that we reproduce next month on the Khoj pull–out pages in full, Aahana Nivedhita’s prompt and short letter is telling (see quote). After outlining her address, her hobbies etc, she pours her heart out.

We share your concern and sense of disquiet, Syed Hasan and Aahana. And if the little that we are attempting helps stem your distress and emboldens you to share your feelings that appear to swim against the tide, our efforts would have been meaningful. That’s when we may together realise that it is we who speak for the majority, not they.

Archived from Communalism Combat, June  1998, Year 5  No. 44, Learning



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