Monday, May 25, 2009

Joint Indo-Pak School History Textbook on the Web

Joint Indo-Pak School History Textbook on the Web by Foqia Sadiq Khan and Q Isa Daudpota September 26, 2000

Abstract: A team of historians from South Asia will jointly write a history text suitable for middle and high school students. This will be put on the Internet at different sites. As chapters develop, and the author jointly agree on the contents, theywill be offered for comment by students and
teachers of history in the region and elsewhere. The authors and other commentators will respond. The important Q&A will be incorporated in the evolving text.

Such a book could be downloaded and made available in print to those unable to access the Net. Similar book projects could follow in South Asia and elsewhere. The "Book on the Web" plan can be used for disseminating ideas and facts in countries where direct exchange of printed material is not possible, and is made worse by an overall lack of objective analysis.

1. Concept Note

History is distorted to create an "enemy" image in the school textbooks in India and Pakistan. These textbooks feed the minds and imagination of millions of children in both countries. They play a major role in generating hatred and animosity between the two countries. Indeed, history textbooks have become victims of the official ideologies and foreign policies of both countries.

1.1 Distortions in India's History Textbooks

S.P. Udayakumar traces the origins of systemic difference-generation in modern India back to the colonial days. The differences among Hindus and Muslims were brought out by the Europeans during the colonial period; Hindus were made to understand the tyranny of Muslim rule while Muslims were told about their glorious conquests. The differences were highlighted and the similarities were made invisible. He quotes George Francis Hamilton's (the Secretary of State for India) letter to Curzon (the Governor General):

"I think the real danger to our rule in India, not now, but say 50 years hence, is the gradual adoption and extension of Western ideas of agitation, and, if we could break educated Indians into two sections holding widely different views, we should, by such a division, strengthen our position against the subtle and continuous attack which the spread of education must make upon our system of Government. We should so plan the educational text-books that the differences between community and community are further strengthened." (Udayakumar, 1999)

The legacy of distortions in history textbooks from the British era continued after Partition. A Calcutta University history textbook in 1928 claimed that "'three thousand Brahmins committed suicide as Tipu (Sultan) wanted to convert them forcibly into the fold of Islam". This claim was later withdrawn from the textbook as it was considered proven false, but was reinstated in a 1972 Uttar Pradesh junior high school textbook. (Udayakumar, 1999)

Although the Congress tried to promote secularism after Partition, the textbooks reflected anti-Pakistan prejudices. The Indian Bharatia Janata Party (BJP) in the1990s ushered a new era of the communalism, and the textbooks reflected that trend, "in Madhya Pradesh the BJP government re-wrote the entire textbooks from nursery to the post-graduate level with a Hindu emphasis. History books projected Hindu rulers such as Rana Pratap and Shivaji as heroes and Muslim rulers such as Aurangzeb as villains". (Udayakumar, 1999)

Distortions in the presentation and interpretation of history have contributed to the spread of communalism in India, while the religious extremist's government is reinforcing it through the government's patronage. It has developed a vicious cycle of preaching hatred through distorted history textbooks. Hence, "highly distorted versions of India's 'national history' is preached by the 'Hindu' communalists, who have been wallowing in mindless infatuation with history trying to control the singular Indian past and future. Their sociological scheme is communal, divisive and hateful. Their peculiar philosophy of history gives rise to a unique historiographical genre that is exclusivistic, vituperative and deceitful". (Udayakumar, 1999)

A few secular groups in the Indian civil society are fighting the religious extremists' attempts to paint history in Hinduvta colours. Teesta Setalvad's Communalism Combat (Mumbai) has consistently exposed textbook distortions, especially in Gujrat / Maharashtra. In one of its recent issues, the magazine comments on the widespread distortions in history textbooks, "it is not just the Gujarat texts that are problematic. Many texts of the more prestigious Indian Civil Service Exam Board, some recommended texts for graduation level history in Maharashtra and texts in Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan are also glaring examples of the same or similar kinds of bias." Due to initiatives like Communalism Combat, the government has been forced to set up a committee to review the distortions in history textbooks. The Combat says that "the Gujrat government admits its textbooks describe 'Muslims, Christians and Parsees as foreigners' and glorify Nazism and Fascism. But the Union HRD (human resources development) minister insists he will not direct any revision in these texts." (Communalism Combat, May 2000)

The secular English language press is cognizant of the indoctrination of children through textbooks. The Hindustan Times has pointed out a move towards the "Talibanisation of textbooks" in one of its editorials:

".thousands of Rashtriya Swayam Sewak schools are teaching a brand of history, especially where it concerns the Babri masjid demolition and the minorities, which does not always apply either an objective methodology or a factual historical paradigm. Instead, it is loaded with crass communal overtones. Clearly, the sole purpose of this reinterpretation of historical facts is to indoctrinate and poison young minds with a prejudiced vision of the past. For instance, the textbook curriculum of the Vidya Bharati Akhil Bharatiya Shiksha Sansthan, which is affiliated with the RSS, has claimed that the Babri masjid was not a mosque because Muslims 'have never till today offered namaaz there'. Other fantastic revelations state that from 1528 to 1914, 350,000 'devotees of Lord Ram have laid down their lives to liberate the Ram temple' and that foreigners invaded Sri Ramjanambhoomi not less then 77 times. In terms of the contemporary history of modern India, the textbooks state that November 2, 1990, will be inscribed in black letters 'because on that day the then Chief Minister, by ordering the police to shoot unarmed kar sevaks, massacred hundreds of them.' All this, of course, is complete nonsense - packed with lies and untruths." (The Hindustan Times, June 6, 2000)

1.2 Distortions in Pakistan's History Textbooks

Pakistan too presents a grim scenario. The government controlled provincial textbook boards have a sole monopoly over publication of all textbooks. These boards produce textbooks full of misrepresentations of history designed to inculcate the state ideology. History has been used to churn out a certain myth about the struggle that led to the creation of Pakistan. Though leaders of All-India Muslim League or Mr M.A. Jinnah never used the word "Ideology of Pakistan", a new subject has been introduced in the schools and colleges of Pakistan just to propagate the official distortions of history. Ayesha Jalal analyses history as official imagining tool to conjure Pakistan:

".when petty officials carry the brief of writing history as victory, the imaginings of power can discard the stray 'truths' of pure inspiration and pretend to monopolize the enterprise of creativity. A sort of selective amnesia descends. Twisted this way and that, the educational system became hooked to officially concocted national soporifics very early on in the day.

The rewriting of history from an Islamic point of view, however defined, was given the highest priority by the managers of the state and has since been refined to a bureaucratic art by national research societies and central or provincial textbook boards. A state-controlled curriculum guarantees a captive market for the history textbooks. These are the official gospels teachers advise students to learn by rote if they want to make a decent showing in examinations, especially those leading to the matriculation, intermediate and bachelor's degrees. The gems of wisdom contained in textbooks rarely survive the writing of the exam. But with help from the state-controlled media, the lessons learnt in school and college serve as the alphabet and the grammar that makes psyches literate in the idioms of national ideology. To know the alphabet and grammar of the textbooks is to uncover the idioms employed to nationalize the Pakistani past." (Jalal, 1995)

K.K. Aziz has conducted a thorough and fascinating postmortem of 66 Pakistan Studies textbooks. The Pakistan Studies course is the only place where history is taught in schools, particularly those run by the government. Aziz quotes from one of the Pakistan Studies textbook for higher secondary level to highlight the distortions. The textbook says: "the Lahore Resolution was passed on '23 March 1940'; at the end of the war the Labour Party came into power in Britain under 'Lord Attlee'." While the Lahore Resolution was passed on 24th March 1940 and when Attlee became the Prime Minister of Britain in 1945, he was not a peer. The textbook further says, "after the partition of the subcontinent the Hindus and Sikhs started a properly planned campaign of exploiting the Muslims generally in the whole of Bharat and particularly in East Pakistan, as a result of which the Hindu and Sikh enemies of mankind killed and dishonoured thousands, nay hundreds of thousands, of women, children, the old and the young with extreme cruelty and heartlessness". Aziz's reply is: "the Hindus and Sikhs were not the only
aggressors in the riots of 1947; Muslims also killed and raped and looted wherever they had the opportunity." (Aziz, 1993)

For Tariq Rahman, history is mutilated in textbooks to construct a mind-set that serves the broader politics of state. Young and impressionable minds are imperganated with seeds of hatred to serve the self-styled ideological strait-jacket:

"The state's major objectives - creating nationalism and support for the military - are attained by repeating a few basic messages in all the books. First, the non-Muslim part of Pakistan is ignored. Second, the borrowing from Hindu culture is either ignored or condemned. Third, the Pakistan movement is portrayed mostly in terms of the perfidy of Hindus and the British and the righteousness of the Muslims. After the partition, in which Hindus are reported to have massacred Muslims while Muslims are not shown to have treated the Hindus in the same manner, India is portrayed as the enemy, which is waiting to dismember Pakistan. The separation of Bangladesh in 1971 is portrayed as proof of this Indian policy rather than the result of the domination of the West Pakistan over East Bengal. Above all, the 1948, 1965 and 1971 wars are blamed entirely on India, and Pakistan is shown to have won the 1965 war. The armed forces are not only glorified but treated as if they were sacrosanct and above criticism. All eminent personalities associated with the Pakistan movement, especially M.A. Jinnah and Iqbal, are presented as orthodox Muslims and any aspect of their thoughts and behaviour which does not conform to this image is suppressed. Indeed, the overall effect of the ideological lessons is to make Islam reinforce and legitimise both Pakistani nationalism and militarisation." (Rahman, 1998)

2. Joint Indo-Pak School History Textbook on the Web

To sidestep the distortion of school history textbooks in India and Pakistan, one of us (QID) proposed the idea of producing an independent history textbook at the school level. This book to be located on a web site would be written jointly by a group of South Asian historians. This is an attempt to deconstruct the prejudiced mindset of the youngsters on both sides of the border. The joint authorship by historians from across the borders will give legitimacy and acceptance to the textbook. (Daudpota, June 2000)

Mubarak Ali, the Pakistani historian based in Lahore, is a strong advocate of the joint Indo-Pak textbook explained this project in a recent interview, "The portraits of India and Hindus that are presented in our text-books are very negative. This is what the RSS and the BJP are also trying to do in India - present a negative image of the Other. There is a similarity on both sides about projecting history as a conflict between Hindus and Muslims. But we [Pakistanis] have an additional problem besides being an ideological state. We are not a multi-cultural, multi-religious society and, therefore, the image of the Other - the enemy - is accepted without any verification.

Except in Sindh, there are hardly any Hindus here. There is little chance of meeting them or interacting with them. So whatever image the students get in the text books, they believe it". (Bhushan, July 2000)

It is unlikely that the textbook developed by this project will become a recommended text in India and Pakistan in the near future. It could, however, become popular as background, corrective reading for students, teachers and interested public who are interested in an alternative viewpoint. Dissemination through the media and Internet, and possible printing by independent book publishers will make it readily accessible.

3. Methodology for the Textbook on the Web

3.1 Selection

A team of 2 or 3 distinguished historians and one project coordinator would be chosen from each side of the Indo-Pak border. Historians from other countries in the region will also be considered and are welcome to join. Mubarak Ali has agreed to be one of main Pakistani historian of the joint
textbook, and Ayesha Jalal, of Pakistan but currently at Tufts University, has expressed an interest. Search for other contributors is going on at this stage. Besides the professional historians who author the text, we want a broader group of South Asian experts and international academics as advisors, consultants and commentators.

Other names suggested for the project are: Satish Sabwerwal, Anil Sethi, Harbans Mukhia (JNU), Krishna Kumar (Delhi Univ) and Nanita Chandra Behera from India; Rubina Saigol, Inayatullah and Tariq Rahman from Pakistan. We wish to invite them and others to join. The success of this project will depends on many people. Most important is the choice of the South Asian historians who will be the joint authors of the book. They should be willing to overcome national biases and write an 'objective' history of this region. Tolerance of the views of other collaborators is essential. Where there is strong disagreement among the authors with a majority view, this will be made explicit, and readers will be left to make their own judgment.

Credible historians, enthusiastic about writing at the school level will be chosen. Proficiency in using email is essential. This will be the main medium for intensive collaborative exchanges, both with fellow authors and with readers of their work.

In addition to the historians, who themselves may not have enough time to respond to all questions raised by the audience of students, teachers and other interested readers, it is necessary to have a number of volunteers. They will have expertise in Indo-Pak history and are keen to enter into a dialogue on the Net. Persons interested in the project are invited to contact Q. Isa Daudpota or Foqia S. Khan by email.

3.2 Planning & Implementation

In this nascent phase of the project, we think the book would consist of 10-12 chapters of about 20 pages, divided either on periodic (i.e. Ancient, Medieval and Modern) or thematic basis. We assume that it would be completed in one year. Historians may jointly or individually write each chapter. A tentative book plan being developed by Mubarak Ali will be circulated for comment. As each chapter develops the authors will share it with others on the team to get comments. Once the draft is agreed upon by all the authors it will it be put on the web site for comments by others. (If any of the authors differs with the majority view, the minority will also be recorded.) The coordinator will, after there has been sufficient discussion on the Net, ask the authors to amend their draft. As this occurs, the important Q&A that have been generated will form a useful supplement to the main text. Another supplement, as a lead-in to the main text, should be a book of readings in history at the school level. This would be relatively easy to compile and could help jump-start the project. The main text should always refer to relevant articles in this new collection of readings, which should have commentary added to it by the our team of historians.

Several anthologies already exist in book form and on the net. The relevant material needs to be chosen from them and put on our web site, and other relevant sites should be make accessible from there. See for example the very extensive site hosted by Fordham University. (Indian History Sourcebook at Fordham University -- Web Site)

After securing the funding for the project, the select group of historians would meet in the Planning Workshop to come up with a time-bound plan for the book, divide the responsibilities and formulate the detailed terms of reference for the joint textbook. Having said this, the plan should ideally be independent of funding, in that it should still be possible to develop the book if authors forego payment for their effort. This will also mean that instead of a planning meeting, the authors will need to discuss matter more thoroughly using an electronic list or by email.

Authors could take responsibility of co-written or independent chapters, as long as they agree with all that appears in the final version of the textbook. To ensure this result, there would need to be extensive consultation and planning between all authors. Email would be used for consultation and project coordinators would also facilitate the process.

3.3 Dissemination on paper

After completion of the book on the web, it may be printed in India and Pakistan by interested commercial publishers. Its full contents would remain on the project's website. The website would be popularlised by linking its URL to major newspapers' sites and all other prominent sites in South Asia.
Book reviews would be carried both in print media and on the Internet to attract the public, particularly students and teachers. The textbook would be open to moderated discussion over the Internet. There would be moderators in each country from where the authors belong. For example, if a Pakistani student wants to submit a query of write a comment, it would need to be channeled through the Pakistani moderator who is the joint author, Collaborator or coordinator in Pakistan.

4. Budget Estimation (Tentative)

S.No. Activity Amount

1. Planning Workshop (if held)

8 participants $2000 x 8 =$16,000

2 Honorarium per chapter -- $200.

12 chapters $200 x 12 =$2400

3 Honorarium per coordinator.

$ 500. 2 coordinators $500 x 2=$1000

4 Publication

(cost to be borne by publishers in Pakistan and India) $0

5 Overheads and Contingencies including web hosting $2000

_____________________________________________________ ________

6 Total $21400

Note: Without the Planning Workshop, the total cost would as low as $6000.


Aziz, K.K. The Murder of History in Pakistan, Vanguard, Lahore, 1993.

Bhushan, Bharat "Writing Indo-Pak history on the net", Hindustan Times, 6 July, 2000.

Communalism Combat, Mumbai, May 2000. (text unavailable)

Daudpota,Q. Isa "Netting Knowledge: Truth, Friendship and Enlightenment", Spider - Internet Magazine, Jun 2000.
Indian History Sourcebook at Fordham University - Web Site.

Jalal, Ayesha "Conjuring Pakistan: History as Official Imagining", International Journal of Middle East Studies, 27, (1995), pp. 73-89.

Rahman,Tariq "Language-Teaching and World View in Urdu Medium Schools", Research Paper Series, SDPI, Islamabad, 1998.

"Talibanisation of textbooks: Sangh brand history has crass communal overtones", The Hindustan Times, June 6, 2000.

Udayakumar, S.P. " 'Om-Made' History - Preparing the Unlettered for the Future Hindu Rashtra", Indian Journal of Secularism, April-June 1999.

Isa Daudpota, Inst of Business Admin and Technology, 24 W. Jinnah Ave, Blue Area, Islamabad, Pakistan.

SOURCE: CHOWK - all are welcome to read, write and think.