When Cecil Shane Chaudhry was in school, a chapter in the grade six Urdu textbook, titled Hamare Ghazi aur Shaheed [Our victors and martyrs], had a passage about his father, Group Captain Cecil Chaudhry, the celebrated Christian fighter pilot.
Shane is now executive director of the National Commission for Justice and Peace, a human rights advocacy organisation that was formed in 1985 by the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Pakistan.
“I felt very proud sitting in the classroom and studying about my own father but the passage has been removed from the textbooks,” said Shane at the round-table education discussion on curriculum reforms, organised by the commission at the Pearl Continental hotel on Wednesday.
“It is not just about one Cecil Chaudhry, it is about hundreds of Pakistani non-Muslims, the unsung heroes of all fields, from healthcare to education and from politics to development and defence,” said Shane, as he asserted that the basis of this ‘exclusion’ arose from the biased education policy adopted since the 1970s.
He added that this is encouraging hate speech, especially in the subjects of Islamic Studies, Urdu, English, History and Pakistan Studies. “These men gave their blood, their sweat and their tears to this country and they have now been forgotten.”
Shane then revealed that it can take up to Rs4,000 for someone to change their name on their Matriculation certificate but it is free for a convert who wanted to change their name. “How can our government institutions actually approve such discriminative practices that are tantamount to targeting religious minorities,” asked Shane.
Reverend Father Emanuel Yusaf, who was chairing the event, agreed with Shane. “The whole arrangement of textbooks is visibly discriminatory against non-Muslim citizens and is in violation of Articles 20 and 25 of the Constitution of Pakistan,” said Yusaf. “The biased material is a major cause of the growth of religious intolerance and extremism in the country.”
On the prevailing environment of fear and intimidation, lawyer and political activist Muhammad Jibran Nasir remarked that a dialogue on elimination of religious biases can take place inside a closed hall of the Pearl Continental hotel but not at Karachi Press Club. “As things stand, hardly anyone can stand up and openly criticise the government or even those who promote hate because if you do, you are labeled an agent of foreign agencies,” he said.
For Nasir, a child reading existing textbooks gets indoctrinated in a very subtle manner for the next 10 years of his life. “These textbooks present the religious minorities and their beliefs in a selectively negative manner,” he said. “It becomes inevitable for a child to have a very negative image about religions other than Islam.”
While presenting a historical analysis of religious and historical biases in the curriculum, educationist Prof Bernadette Dean recommended that the current education policy and curriculum should be reviewed to remove discriminatory and inflammatory materials and practices, especially those that target religious minorities.
“Besides imparting knowledge, schools should focus on educating students about universal humanity, the importance of human dignity and responsible citizenship,” she added.
However, Shane appreciated ‘a certain level of willingness’ in three political parties – the Pakistan Peoples Party, the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) and the Awami National Party – to address the issue of curriculum reforms. “There is a lot that needs to be done and there is no quick fix for the indoctrination that has been going on since the 1940s, yet I would like to appreciate the fact that people in Sindh want such reforms.”
MQM MNA Muhammad Rehan Hashmi asserted that civil society, political parties and the media have to play their part and continuously highlight the issues so that a consensus can be achieved.
Published in The Express Tribune, May 2nd, 2014.