KARACHI: To develop tolerance and harmony in society, hate and conflict material introduced in the era of Gen Ziaul Haq will have to be undone and eliminated from textbooks, said speakers at the one-day conference on ‘Uprooting Religious Intolerance through Formal Education in Pakistan’.
The event was jointly organised by National Commission of Justice and Peace (NCJP) and Aurat Foundation at Marriott Hotel on Wednesday. Speakers expressed the need for legislation to ensure the removal of contents reflecting hatred and discrimination against minorities.
Kashif Aslam of NCJP shared some findings of the commission’s study regarding the kind of material in the textbooks of all four provinces across Pakistan. “Religious minorities, who played as important a part in the achievements of Pakistan as their Muslim counterparts, are not even given the space of a mere mention,” he said. He added that by including these people in the list of heroes of Pakistan, discrimination can be eliminated at least on the education side.
Taking his point forward, NCJP regional director Rev Fr Saleh Diego said that whenever there is mention of Muslim national heroes in the Independence movement, students belonging to other religions naturally feel out of place as they feel their ancestors had no part in it. “We never heard slogans like Pakistan ka matlab kiya [What is the meaning of Pakistan] in our time,” he said. “Statements like these need to be removed from text books,” he said.
Pakistan Muslim League – Functional MPA Mehtab Akbar Rashdi, however, disagreed with the very idea of the need for legislation. According to her, it is the environment at home that plays a greater role in moulding the mindsets of the children. She did not agree with the idea of the need for legislation to address the issue of discrimination. “Change is to be brought through policy. Why we need legislation for this matter is beyond my understanding,” she said.
She agreed, nonetheless, that the mindset nurtured on differences and conflict is something that was forcefully penetrated into the confines of the homes during the 80s. “Intolerance and divide reached the education curriculum later,” she said. “When children talk among themselves, they are talking about what they have learnt at home and not what they have learnt at school.” She added that the approach to address this issue should be ‘let’s address ourselves first’.
Aslam shared how, in some schools, students had separated earthen water pots and labelled them ‘Musalman ka matka‘ [Muslim’s pot] and ‘Hindu ka matka‘ [Hindu’s pot]. He narrated other instances where students accused their teachers of blasphemy over particular subjects.
Aurat Foundation resident director Mehnaz Rehman said that the children are being kept away from science and are being made to believe in spirits and jinns for Pakistan’s energy crisis. “The only solution is to eliminate these elements from books,” she emphasised.
Published in The Express Tribune, June 11th, 2015.