Hegemony and Historiography:
The Politics of Pedagogy
by Yvette Claire Rosser, PhD – A.B.D.
Yvette Claire Rosser is a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Curriculum and Instruction at The University of Texas at Austin. She has a M.A. -South Asian History and Culture & a B.A. (with honors), in Asian Studies from UT Austin.
(from a paper delivered in Dhaka, July 31, 1999, sponsored by The Centre for Development Research, Bangladesh and The American Institute of Bangladesh Studies) Published in The Asian Review, Spring, 2000 Dhaka.
This paper situates a discussion of the influences of colonialism, nationalism, and politics on historiography and curriculum development within a comparative study of the contents of Social Studies textbooks in Bangladesh, India, and Pakistan. It traces the impact of colonial policies on pedagogical institutions in South Asia and their subsequent appropriation by the nationalist discourse. It discusses the ubiquitous implementation of the ‘culture of textbooks,’ which simultaneously brought about a loss of status for teachers and became instruments which reify and replicate class inequalities and religious and cultural differences by promoting rote learning and reproduction instead of dialectical inquiry. Education in this critical analysis, becomes a hegemonic tool mediating between centers of power and the common citizen. This paper also explores the debates between conservative and progress educational forces in the USA in an attempt to related these issues to a broader global context.
Assuming teleological imperatives of national identity formation inherent in Social Studies curriculum–that history textbooks are narrated with the intent of developing students into patriotic, productive citizens–this paper highlights the oppositional interpretations of history found in a selection of school textbooks from the subcontinent. Examples from state-sponsored textbooks used in classrooms in Bangladesh, India, and Pakistan will illustrate the appropriation of history to reinforce a national philosophy or ideology; historical interpretations are therefore predetermined, unassailable, and concretized. In this highly charged atmosphere, where history is seen as a tool to mold a nation’s youth, interpretations of historical events are manipulated, heroes and villains exchange places, an antinomy of ‘drishtikon’ or ‘nazariat’ (point of view) renders interpretation-laden facts found in the vast legacy of shared historical events of the subcontinent politically mutually exclusive. Several questions loom large: “Whose history is valued and reproduced in service to the social order or state? How and why are historical events appropriated and imbued with often diametrical interpretations? Selective history distorts and disconnects historical facts from their context and biography becomes hagiography when Social Studies is based on nationalist interpretations and mandates.
This paper offers only the backdrop and the beginnings of a larger study of the representation of history found in Social Studies curriculum and textbooks in South Asia. Bangladesh and Pakistan, born from the Indian Nationalist Movement, emerged as separate, often antagonistic nations. How does each country deal with a past which created it, but of which it is not now a political part? Memories being what they are, how is the transfer of identity accomplished and what consequences does it have for the new nation? Ultimately, other concerns will also be addressed in the larger study, such as the qualitative impact of Social Studies education. Is the official version of the historical record believed “as fact” by teachers and their students? Or, do they bring alternative stories of the past to the classroom, based on family memories? Is there a displacement between history as national discourse and history as folklore?
Education is Light!1
Education is inevitably perceived as the universal social panacea. Claims are ubiquitously made that if designed scientifically and efficiently, education will solve the problems of our society. If reformed, transformed, revived, and financially supported, schools can save the nation from an accelerating descent down the road to ruin on which a country’s citizens, and especially the children, may be seen to be sliding. Such ideas drive the pervasive machine of educational reform. Undoubtedly, in most nations of the world, from the countries of the subcontinent, to Britain and the USA, education is seen as a cure-all for our problems–social, economic, environmental. Leaders use educational reform as a rallying cry and a political platform. On a regular basis curriculum committees are formed to reform schools, usually to modernize them so students will be “prepared for the future,” and sometimes to return schools to “traditional values” thereby saving the children from “degenerate cultural influences.” Sometimes both of these agendas exist simultaneously, since social paradigms themselves are constantly changing, often driven by class conflict and social and economic contradictions.
An attitude of certainty regarding the efficacy of education is easily observable in the popular media in Bangladesh. In the May 3, 1999 edition of The Bangladesh Observer, Sheikh Hassina is quoted, “Our aim is to rear children as worthy citizens so that they can love the country and culture and get equipped with modern education.” From The Daily Star, March 19, 1999, under the heading ” Govt taking all steps to groom children as worthy citizens,” the article begins, “Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina yesterday said the government is working to groom the country’s children as golden sons to build a . . . Golden Bengal. . .” She told the young students at Tungipara, “We want to groom you as golden sons of the soil. With you, we’ll build a ‘Sonar Bangla’.” However, the definition of a “worthy citizen” must be explored, deconstructed, and unpacked.2
Throughout the history of formal and non-formal education, before Plato and on past Rousseau, including the prophetic pedagogical child-centered ideas of Rabindranath Tagore and John Dewey, and inherent in the educational mandates of contemporary national governments, schooling the youth is viewed as indispensable for social and national development. The purposes and goals of education proclaimed by curriculum committees have aroused heated debates and endless discourse. Educational policy and curriculum designers seek to either encourage social change by transforming the existing educational system, or conversely to take the syllabus “back to the basics” in an effort to either recapture the past glories of bygone eras or guarantee the status quo. The orientation of the various groups of interested educators and public officials, as well as political concerns of governments condition reform rhetoric.
The first effort at educational reform in Bangladesh, the National Education Commission, popularly known as the Qudrat-e-Khuda Committee, was initiated a mere six months after the independence of the country, such was the confidence in the fruits of educational mandates. Its report, published in May, 1974, stated that the “aim was to remove the various defects and deficiencies of our present education system, to indicate a way as to how a wholesome nationhood can be achieved through the medium of education and to strengthen the country in modern knowledge.”3 In the first chapter of the report, education is called “a weapon for social transformation” and a “medium for the reconstruction of our individual and social lives,” a means to “destroy prejudices, malpractices, and corruption.” The Qudrat-e-Khuda report asserts that “educational institutions must assume a meaningful role in building the character of their pupils and in generating a sense of values.”4
In India, the National Education Policy published in 1986 defined education’s “acculturating role” as “furthering the goals of socialism, secularism and democracy enshrined in our Constitution.”5 A more recent report from educational reformers in India reflects a similar set of goals, geared to promote equality and encourage national integration of minority groups into the national fabric. As stated in Recommendations of the National Steering Committee on Textbooks Evaluation, “The notion that Indian culture and civilization are the product of any one group of people or any one region is a negation of the idea of a composite culture with a multiplicity of sources and influences as well as diversity and variety.”6 The document goes on to state that the goal for evaluating textbooks is to “eliminate from them any material that promoted communalism, obscurantism, casteism and regional and linguistic chauvinism and was prejudicial to national integration.”7
In Pakistan, “most educationists seem to have accepted the policy advocated since the late 1970’s, and made compulsory in the mid-1980s, for the school curriculum to reflect and reinforce the ‘national ideology’.8 The National Education Policy, published in 1978 by the Ministry of Education in Islamabad, stated that the goal of education was to foster “a deep and abiding loyalty to Islam and a living consciousness of Muslim Nationhood.”9 Comparatively, in Britain a new ‘National Curriculum’,10 introduced in 1991, promoted the study of the humanities as the means to understand the “values of democratic societies.”11 The methods and educational assumptions in each nation are parallel though the goals are often diametrical.
In educational discourse the primary site for developing citizenship is the subject field of the Social Studies. The Social Studies curriculum is a site for national identity formation where curriculum writers seek to design pedagogical experiences to create a ‘Sonar Bangla’ or a golden future for the nation, whatever the nation. This use, and some would say, abuse of history has long been of concern to Social Scientists and recently even more so due to the contemporary interest in identity formation and the discourse of nationalism in the production of civic knowledge. Though all subject areas are impacted by political manipulations of the curriculum and the perceived role that education should play in the social system, none has been subjected to such tortuous stretching and contracting as the field of Social Studies. Among the disciplines, it is History within the Social Sciences that is used to create civic identity and inculcate patriotism and is therefore manipulated by the power structures to reflect their orientation.
Continuing critiques of the uses of historiography in the creation of national ethos, such as Telling the Truth About History,12 and the work of such notables as Howard Zinn and Erik Hobsbaum, have brought attention to this issue. Social Studies classes play a critical role in the creation of citizenship and national identity, which is why the Social Sciences are more susceptible to the changing currents of political machinations. In his book, Lies My Teacher Told Me,13 Jim Loewen systematically reviews twelve high school American History textbooks and points out how they perpetuate class inequities and omit controversial issues which are integral parts of the history of the USA, but which do not support the dominant cultural paradigm. This nationalistic use of history is found in the textbooks of most nations.14 The subject matter either promotes the idealistic mission of the nation, how the leaders and visionaries would like the country to be, thereby taking an active role in social transformation, and/or they laud the country for what it is and what it has done, thereby perpetuating and glorifying the past story of the nation. Either way, whether striving to change society through the curriculum or mirroring the status quo, the Social Studies curriculum is seen as a tool.
Not all imperatives placed on historiography and the Social Studies curriculum are abusive; they are, however, all meant to create citizens of a particular stripe. Several examples from other nations readily come to mind such as the negative portrayal of Nazism in modern German textbooks juxtaposed against the ambivalent treatment of W.W.II in Japanese textbooks. Oppositional versions of the events leading to the Spanish civil war are a classic example of multiple historical interpretations and the uses of historical narrative to justify a particular perspective.15 In the 1997 edition of history textbooks published by the National Curriculum and Textbook Board, the role of the Mujib Bahini is lauded and they are attributed a central role in the War of Liberation, whereas some scholars would question this narrative.
The historians’ craft is to reveal cause and effect, to interpret, to make meaning out of past events. Total neutrality is impossible.16 Identity constructs select and flavor –facts do not speak for themselves. Because of the fluidity of historical interpretations, the field of Social Science is a pawn in the politicized rhetoric of educational policy. This became apparent in the very hot and public debate in the USA over the National History Standards in 1995 which advocated a more multi-cultural presentation, and ironically evoked reactionary critiques from right-wing educators claiming that such eclectic approaches negated American values.
Educational Discourse Past and Present:
Enlightened Intentions and Hegemonic Results
In the USA there has long been a debate regarding the role of education–should schools change society or mirror it? Current arguments about the purpose of education can be seen in their germinal form by a brief discussion of the Common School Movement which developed in the USA only a few decades after independence. Joel Spring explains that “No other period in American educational history has stimulated as extensive a debate about its meaning and goals.”17Though there were educational institutions and state run schools prior to the movement spearheaded by Horace Mann during the first part of the 19th century, “What was different about the Common School movement, was the establishment and standardization of state systems of education designed to achieve specific public policies.” What made the Common School different was that it was under state control and designed to teach a “common body of knowledge to students from different social backgrounds.”18
As Spring explains, the Common School was designed so that children of all social classes would go to school together and study “a common social and political ideology” thereby decreasing “political conflict and social problems.” The Common School was seen as a panacea to solve society’s problems. Certainly, schools of earlier years were expected to fulfill specific societal functions. Colonial education was intended to teach people how to read the Bible; during the early years of the Republic, schools were seen as a place to create an elite class of men who could provide leadership for the new nation. Schools in early America were intended to serve a purpose. Whether that purpose was to change society or to mirror and perpetuate it, depends on whose goals are implemented. Often, both of these orientations exist simultaneously.
The Common School Movement was based on the idea that “human nature can be formed, shaped, and given direction by training within formally organized institutions.”19 Liberals who supported the movement saw it as a way to integrate immigrants in to the society and provide a forum for inculcating democratic ideals. Schools were seen as a method to reform the social order. Both conservatives and liberals had ideas about what the goals of the Common School should be, it depends, as mentioned, on whose interests were being served. Horace Mann and his followers set the stage for this dichotomous mission that was simultaneously “interested in disarming the poor and in preventing poverty.”20
In colonial India this same debate can be observed. As early as 1776, Adam Smith criticized the East India Company, arguing that the preservation of British interests in India had given rise to additional responsibilities.21 Krishna Kumar, a professor of education at Delhi University, notes ironically:
A commercial institution was thus made to become a colonial state and to change its rhetoric from profit for itself into service for the empire. . . . It implied the creation of a new order in the colony, a civil society among the natives. The ethos, the rules and the symbols of the new order had to be constructed, in a manner that would not disturb the ongoing commercial enterprise. . . . Within it, coercion had to be replaced by socialization.22
A primary method employed to achieve this goal was, of course, education. Aristocrats viewed the uneducated lower classes as illiterate, irrational, poor, dangerous, and a threat to their economic dominance. Education was considered necessary to ensure civil order and guarantee the rights of property. The same pedagogical imperative was applied to the population of England as well as to Indian subjects. In India, as in England, only the elites were deemed worthy of imbibing gifts that a western education would bestow, education of the working class was not considered cost-effective. Education was not offered to the urban poor in England until later. The poor were seen as a possible threat to social order who needed moral training more than intellectual development.
This civilizing hypothesis in the colonial context did not go unchallenged. Edmund Burke, among others of the bourgeoisie, argued that the fierce American desire for independence would never have succeeded had it not “been led by a determined educated class.”23 “We had just lost America from our own folly in having allowed the establishment of schools and colleges and that it would not do for us to repeat the same act of folly in regard to India.”24 Steeped in John Locke and post-Reformation Humanism, the Americans could not but rebel against their colonial masters. Many British feared the same from their Indian subjects if provided with the tools of rationalism. Such was their faith in the power of contemporary English education.
General Cornwallis, who had recently tasted defeat during the America revolution, took up his next assignment as India’s Governor-General, determined to consolidate the empire. Cornwallis’s famous predecessor, Warren Hastings, “who himself was fully conversant with Bengali and Persian languages, contributed his share to the progress of education.”25 Hastings, a product of the Orientalist tradition, was concerned with discovering the missing links of civilization, and respected Indian customs and traditions. He did not share the Evangelical and Utilitarian viewpoint that promoted a “glorious vision of English education as the grand medium of transmitting the civilization and culture of Europe to a decadent Asiatic Society like India.”26 Instead, Hastings worked to help establish the Calcutta Madrassah in 1781, “based on the age-old Mohammedan system of teaching Arabic and Persian.”27
In 1792, an Orientalist scholar, Jonathan Duncan, founded the Sanskrit College of Benares. In a letter to Cornwallis, Duncan defended the school, stating that the purpose of the institution was the “preservation and cultivation of the [indigenous] Laws, Literature, and Religion . . . .[in order to] endear our Government to the native Hindoos.”28 The mandate for Orientalist education was to use the languages of the elite to educate Hindus and Moslems in their own laws and traditions. Early colonialists such as Hastings, were “deeply interested in the civilizations of the sub-continent. Wishing to govern in harmony with the traditions of the peoples, he recruited [Sir William Jones] the first of a long series of British scholars to study the ancient laws of India.”29 The efforts of these scholars were more intent on bringing Indian learning to Europe than on bringing European learning to the subcontinent.
Though the first English school had been established in Madras as early as 1673, it was meant to serve the Anglo-Indian population and the educational needs of the Company’s employees.30 By the end of the eighteenth century, several institutes of higher learning had been established for local populations in Bengal, Bombay and Benares and other locales. With the beginning of the nineteenth century, colonial networks were firmly entrenched and imperialists’ concerns centered around methods of maintaining British dominance. In 1811, the Governor General, Lord Minto (Gilbert Elliot), wrote that the depraved and corrupt condition of the people of India was related to the lack of education, “Little doubt can be entertained that the prevalence of the crimes of perjury and forgery. . . is in a great measure ascribable, both in the Mohomedans and Hindoos, to the want of due instruction in the moral and religious tenets of their respective faiths.”31When the Charter for the East India Company was renewed in 1813, “a modest provision was made for the expenditure on institutions of learning.”32 The Euro-centric influence of Evangelists, such as Charles Grant and T. B. Macaulay, initially contrasted with the mandates of Utilitarians such as James Mill, whose History of British India, first published in 1818, was immensely influential.
“The Utilitarians were interested in teaching the sciences, history, and philosophy, not literature and poetry.”33 They were impatient with the Orientalists’ indigenized approach to education, which had been designed during the early years of England’s consolidation of power in order to avoid alienating the local inhabitants. Missionary work, in fact, had at times been discouraged because it caused distrust among the “natives.” Mill did not give much credence to “the wishy-washy theories of acculturation by an English literary cult, a view that was much favored by the Evangelists and Macaulayists.”34 Evangelism, which equated social progress with Christianity, espoused a form of “European education in alliance with the doctrine of Christianity, [which would communicate] to the colonies the superior morals and knowledge of Europe, would destroy the basis of their old beliefs and pave the way for conversion to Christianity.”35 All of these theories of education for India stressed educating the propertied members of society. The laboring classes were not seen as individuals; they were simply the “mass” of undifferentiated laborers, in India as in England.
Orientalist scholarship gradually lost its sway over colonial policy-making, and ideas of conserving indigenous traditions in India were replaced by the “imperial urge to govern them and ‘civilize’ them according to British ideas.”36 The push to educate elite Indians in English gradually gained momentum. The idea was to educate a select group of the landed class who would then translate English law, poetry and literature into the native tongues, creating a trickle-down educational effect. European learning could thereby be appreciated by the masses and assist in their acquiescence and submission to the rule of what they would undoubtedly recognize as a technologically and morally superior civilization.
The Charter Act of 1833 opened the way for Indians to join the civil service. “From then on, every student was assumed to be aspiring for civil services as the Indian Civil servant was perceived as the heart of the small civil society.”37 State spending on education was justified on these grounds. Education for the sake of learning was less important than as a source of ethical uplift and the creation of a cheap labor pool for the colonial administration. Regardless, many Indians who were educated in the British system, felt a “new and positive self-image.” The tiny fraction of educated elites, from whom loyalty and morality was supposed to trickle down to the masses, soon became nationalists with quite another vision for India.
By 1857, the Orientalist orientation had given ground to the Anglicized Utilitarian position which promoted the study of English literature and eschewed the use of indigenous texts and knowledge.38 In this way, “the cosmopolitan and intellectual curiosity of the eighteenth century Enlightenment [gave way to the] messianism of the nineteenth century.”39 Ironically, it was the “vast body of knowledge, [from the Orientalists] and the stereotypes emanating from it, that were used by the Anglicist to attack the native culture.” Ultimately, both orientations contributed to the colonial enterprise which, by rejecting indigenous models, “created a deep conflict between education and knowledge.”40 The ironies inherent in the English educational program thus brought its validity into question. Aspiring parents who wanted to gain socially and financially under the prevailing conditions, sent their sons to English schools in hopes that they would secure employment with the burgeoning bureaucracy, yet they feared the very system that offered them promises of prestige, precisely because English education was seen as divorced from Indian mores. Walsh notes in her study of children in British India that “the greatest fear of parents, particularly in the early years of the nineteenth century, was that their children would convert to Christianity.”41
The worst fears of the imperialists, namely that English education would create a class of dissident intellectuals who would question the authority of their masters, gradually emerged and subverted the Anglicizing project. Though the British continued to look down on the intellectual abilities of the “brown babus” as imitative and superficial, and though most of those educated in the English system were in many ways disassociated from their indigenous milieu, the grand scheme of totalizing acculturation could not stem the nationalist tide. Modernist leaders such as Ram Mohan Roy whole-heartedly embraced the ideals of the Enlightenment, and, influenced by Unitarian thought, sought to implement social reform. Traditionalists like Dayananda Saraswati promoted social reform in the garb of orthodox Vedic concepts in response to those imposed by the colonizers, while utilizing Western pedagogical paradigms in promoting mass education. Saraswati founded the Arya Samaj in order to counteract evangelical missionary rhetoric and the perceived threat of continuing Islamic conversions; he utilized print technology and established educational institutions with a centrally mandated curriculum.
Educators among the Islamic elite such as the two main figures in the founding of the Deoband school, Muhammad Qasim Nanautawi and Rashid Ahmad Gangohi, also played important roles.42 In the academic institution they established in Deoband in 1867, they did away with the personalized “teaching style that had been used for centuries. . . . Students enrolled in the school studied a defined curriculum with annual examinations.”43 Though the hadiith was central to the educational content, the organizational form was “adopted from the English model of education.”44
Ultimately the educational enterprise was propagated and sustained through the introduction of textbooks and standardized curriculum. Drawing from the educational theories and practices popular in eighteenth and nineteenth century England, education in colonial India was designed to reflect the post-Enlightenment belief in reason, humanism, and liberalism that stressed the creation of an ordered civil society which guarded the rights of property and capital and imparted moral values to the population, specifically the upper classes. These ideals were supported by a centralized curriculum which depended on predetermined textbooks for its dissemination.
In seventeenth and eighteenth century Britain, when print technology merged with new imperatives for centralized education, the textbook became a “basic instrument for the organization of curricula and teaching in national school systems.”45 By the middle of the nineteenth century, the content of curricular materials was by and large centralized. Debate had begun in earnest among the ruling elites regarding the need for mass elementary education as a method to create good citizens among the general population.46 As education came to be seen as a tool for social engineering, theories for teacher training replaced the personalized, scholarship-based patterns of earlier centuries. The move to teach large numbers of students simultaneously, and the imperative to impart cultural norms, created the need for standardized textbooks. The production of knowledge had become a powerful tool in the hegemonic intent of the civilizing project, what modern critics of education have called the ‘hidden curriculum’.
Prior to the nineteenth century, “teachers worked with individuals or small groups. . . . schools [had] collections of texts. . . . [T]eachers would use these books adventitiously to organize programs of instruction for individual students.”47 A parallel can be drawn between this classical European system of pedagogy and the educational practices in ancient India. Gandhi’s statement at Chatham House, London, in October 1931, criticizes the effect of the English educational system on traditional learning, “India is more illiterate than it was fifty or a hundred years ago . . . because the British administrators, when they came to India, instead of taking hold of things as they were, began to root them out.”48 Gandhi accused his colonizers of destroying the “beautiful tree” of the indigenous system of village schools by digging up the roots and leaving them exposed. He claimed that the British had made education too expensive for the common man and had not supported the traditional village schoolmaster.
Education, in the course of the nineteenth century, acquired a pedagogical imperative focused on the civilizing the masses. The curriculum became more controlled and standardized, centered around a required text, usually outside the individual teacher’s power to decide. Simultaneous with the adoption of textbook-directed education was a decline in the status of the teacher.49 Textbook-driven models give the impression that schools can simply hand the prescribed materials to an adult, who will teach by rote and recitation, utilizing the questions at the back of each chapter, the answers to which are often included in a teacher’s guide. By definition, this presupposes that the subject can be encapsulated and thus taught by an arbitrary individual or untrained moderator.50 This under-valuation of the teaching profession in turn legitimates under-paying teachers who are considered to be on the same professional level as clerks, their jobs often seen as simply administering records, distributing textbooks, and monitoring tests.
Textbook-centered curriculum models present the subject matter from one point of view, suggesting that there are no others. It assumes that the process of teaching is mechanical, and suggests that students are all the same. It places, as well, too much authority in the hands of ideologues who want to ensure that the subject is presented from their point of view. In addition, the orientation and representation of the material tend to change according to the vagaries of current educational theory, which is often dictated by non-scholastic forces. Textbooks present themselves as ideologically and politically neutral, which they are not. This construct denies the teacher, let alone the students, the power to choose what is appropriate for the particular class. The most sacredly enshrined component of the educational experience becomes the student’s ability to pass a standardized text. Often the teacher’s job security depends on how well the students can recall and reproduce strings of facts. If textbooks are the primary source from which all information pertinent to evaluation is obtained, the necessity for the teacher to “cover” all the prescribed material therein lends an ironic twist to the emphasis on facts as received knowledge which often cover or obfuscate the processes of the learning experience.
This unsatisfactory model predominates not only in the post-colonial subcontinent, past and present, but is still the usual method of instruction in most contemporary schools, East and West. With the advent of mass education, textbooks were seen as a way to keep large roomfuls of students on-task. This, in turn, promoted the production of textbooks by a profit-motivated publishing industry or by government-funded agencies. Teacher training became a matter of classroom management. Along with the decline in the status of educators, the personalized instruction of the earlier periods was lost to mass, centrally-generated educational paradigms that persist through the centuries.
The centralized system of education undermined the teacher’s authority over curriculum.51 This model obliged teachers to keep large groups of children orderly and to maintain daily records of attendance, expenditures, and test results. As their status declined dramatically, teachers faced financial loss, particularly when student performance during inspection became a criterion for financial grants. Teachers, as a rule, made a salary ten times less than the often intimidating inspecting officers. By 1918, it was apparent that, “Authority, while ceasing to examine the pupil, [was] increasingly bent on examining the teacher.”52 Teaching had become the “maintaining of accurate registers and records [and] sticking to the given order of lessons [from] whichever textbook had been prescribed.”53
Even though this form of education, characterized by the teleology of modernity and so essential to the civilizing project, disrupted, or uprooted, the indigenous systems, it fell, paradoxically, on fertile soil. In both Hindu and Muslim schools, the preferred method of learning was rote memorization. Since both religions believe their respective holy books to be the revealed word of God, the exact syllabic reproduction of the words is essential. Traditionally, students at Madrassahs and Islamic-centered educational institutions were made to memorize long passages from the Qu’ran and from Persian literature, little of which they could actually understand. Similarly, students in Brahmanical schools memorized Sanskrit texts verbatim as an integral component of the learning experience. Undoubtedly this method of instruction is important for the preservation of the culture and religious texts. This observation is not a critique of religion, but a backdrop for understanding the easy implementation of rote methods of learning which continue to characterize schools in South Asia.
This call-and-response technique was ubiquitous and firmly established in the pedagogical practices of the subcontinent prior to the arrival of the Raj. W.D. Arnold, Director of Public Instruction in Panjab during 1857-58, found that the local people agreed upon “what constituted education,” and that was “to read fluently and if possible to say by heart a series of Persian works of which the meaning was not understood by the vast majority, and of which the meaning, when understood, was for the most part little calculated to edify the [general population].”54 Reverential recitation of hieratic literature provided a context in which rote learning experiences, using English literature, could flourish.
The colonial educational system was dramatically divorced from the realities of the Indian milieu and increased the divide between the elites and the common people. It was based on the perception that indigenous knowledge had become deficient and had led to the current “depraved condition” of the Indian people. Orientalists and Indologists saw Indic civilization as the cradle of Europe, but they surmised that the rise of “superstitious and irrational” practices had caused India to stagnate and regress. English-style education was promoted by Utilitarians such as John Stuart Mill and his father James, who wanted to create a class of Indians, well-educated in western ideas and sentiment, who would spread their influence to the rest of India.55
As Bayly argues in his usual articulate manner, this constituted an “information revolution” in the subcontinent.
The knowledgeable man of the Indo-Islamic order was remade in the course of a generation to become the ‘native servant of government’ educated in Milton and Shakespeare, friend to Copernicus, and reader of The Times. This dramatic change is heightened by the apparent sparseness and inflexibility of indigenous knowledge systems and the pathetically low level of popular literacy.56
In the article, The Purpose and Impact of Government Policy on Pathshala Gurumohashoys in Nineteenth-century Bengal, based on his larger research of indigenous education in pre-colonial Bengal,57 Kazi Shahidullah of Dhaka University investigates the negative impact of British pedagogical interventions. Seemingly well meaning and articulated in the cloaked language of reform, these “measures aimed at controlling and improving the education given in the pathshalas. . . . had severe ramifications for the pathshala gurus who were often unable or unwilling to adjust to the changes imposed.”58
Similar to Arnold’s later study of villages schools in Panjab, William Adam, a Scottish missionary, conducted a survey, between 1835 and 1838, on the state of education in Bengal.59 He “found that almost every village in Bengal had a pathshala and estimated that there were about 100,000 such schools in existence at the time in Bengal and Bihar.”60 He reported that printed books were not used, “and even manuscripts were unknown to most of these institutes. Pupils were taught mainly through the oral tradition where exercises were dictated by the teacher and learnt by dint of rote memory.”61 Pathshalas were popular with all classes of people, “irrespective of their religion, caste, or social status,” as the “curriculum was designed towards meeting the practical demands of rural society,”62with emphasis put on accounting and letter writing.
In this way pathshalas had functioned for centuries, providing practical instruction to all classes of children and meeting local needs by “teaching traditional subjects in the traditional way.”63 However, after the Education Dispatch of 1854 the government initiated a series of programs designed at developing a more modern system of education. The pre-existing pathshalas were targeted, because they were operating in almost every village and because they were well attended and economical.
The reforming measures taken were directed mainly at. . . improving the guru, [and] providing him with training, and on directing him as to how best he could run a pathshala properly and efficiently.64
By 1855, the Inspector of Schools for East Bengal, Henry Woodrow had designed a system to assert government control over the pathshalas. In October 1860, Lieutenant-Governor, Sir J.P. Grant initiated a program which identified “existing pathshalas in every district” and provided books and created a system of examination which would “evaluate” the guru as well as the pupils.
Grant’s scheme thus was aimed at improving the education in the pathshalas through improving the gurus. However, a flaw in the scheme was that it made no provision for training, the mere offer of monetary rewards was unlikely to lead to the adoption of the desired improvements. The introduction of printed books and the study of geography and history marked an important change in the course of studies at old pathshalas. Clearly, it would be difficult for the traditional guru to teach subjects which he himself never studied.65
Ironically, these improvements “had a negative impact on the enrollment of the pathshalas. Pupils belonging to the lower classes could not comprehend the utility of the changes introduced and began to drop out from the improved pathshalas.”66 This negative impact was noted in Government of Bengal, Education Proceedings, General Department, no. 64, October 1860,
When one passes from a patshala in it original condition, to one under a Normal school pupil, it is striking to observe the marked difference in the appearance of the pupils in each; in the former I found the naked children of the cultivators, and boys of the lowest class that has ever been reached by instruction of any kind with a rare specimen of better class of villagers; in the latter I found (as a rule) only the Brahmin and writer-cast boys. To my enquires, made from everyone I met, there was but one answer, namely that the lower-class boys had retired altogether from the patshalas.67
Drawing from colonial documents such as the Education Commission Report of the Bengal Provincial Committee (Calcutta, 1884), and the Report of Public Instruction in Bengal (Calcutta, 1863-64) , Kazi Shahidullah describes the standardization of the curriculum and the introduction of print media. Subjects now included history and geography. “Students now learnt to draw maps of different districts showing railways and rivers passing through them; they had to study the administration of Warren Hastings, Lord Cornwallis and Lord William Bentinck.”68 The new system was designed to improve education by modernizing pedagogic practices. The results of this standardization was that schools moved away from indigenous knowledge which was intimately embedded in the local culture and began to emphasize the needs and the deeds of a conquering elite.
This was accomplished by coercion and the introduction of “the art of teaching” which taught gurus, how to maintain registers of attendance and the different kinds of punishment to be invoked for purposes of discipline and control. . . . The independence [of the traditional teachers] was clearly being undermined, and they were gradually being transformed into officials of the government.69
Centralized control of the schools had a negative impact on teachers, who then had to teach what was deemed worthy by the colonial state, based on prescribed methods. Education became a totalizing hegemonic tool.
Ironically, the British system of school reform, as mentioned, dislodged the students of the lower classes who ceased attending the traditional pathshalas. They found the new curriculum irrelevant to their needs, and they preferred not to attend. A similar situation, where poor children rejected education was investigated by Michael Katz in 1968 in a study of American education, The Irony of Early School Reform.70 In this landmark study, Katz argued that the working class resisted public schooling.71 This observation was based on research of voting records from 1860 in Massachusetts which showed that elites were inclined to support the Common School whereas less privileged classes opposed it. This discovery seemed to fly in the face of the standard view of the history of education in the U.S. which told a story of poor working class people who wanted and fought for a better life for their children through education. It was thought that elites were less concerned about the public schools because their children were already receiving good educations in private schools. It was generally accepted that idealistic and socially conscious elites who advocated the Common School did so because they saw the need to help the disadvantaged and create a more egalitarian society.
Katz observed that the public schools during the late 19th century were rigid and bureaucratic with an emphasis on discipline and rote learning which led him to argue “Could a truly humanitarian urge to help realize widely diffused aspirations have turned so quickly into the dispassionate ethos of red tape and drill?” We are left, with the other side of the story, telling a tale of hegemonic intent in which workers are trained just enough to provide cheap labor for the factories, but not enough to develop philosophical systems of inquiry to question a power structure based on unequal distribution of resources. According to Paulo Freire, in the introduction to Culture Wars by Ira Shor, “school reform corresponds to a specific political intention in the interest of safeguarding the establishment.” The generalizability of this rationale was pointed out earlier in the discussion of the perceived responsibility of the East India Company to preserve British interests in India.
Throughout the history of the American school system, there have been progressive reformers and visionaries who have left their impact, if not in practice then at least in theory. It would be overly callused to posthumously declare that their efforts to make schools child-centered, or operational as tools of positive social change, were only thinly veiled manipulations to control the less privileged classes. There were visionary and dedicated individuals who truly felt that schools were at the center of a just society and that it was through education that the less privileged and disfranchised would obtain equal access to power.
The progressive education movement, which is slippery and difficult to pinpoint a central characteristic beyond the platitude “child-centered,” did represent a group of enlightened educational philosophers, best articulated by John Dewey, who genuinely believed that the schools were repressive and did not encourage learning and that more democratic schools would engender more democratic values. They worked tirelessly to revolutionize the educational system so that it would inspire students to reach their full human potential and change American society for the better.
In his now famous work, published in 1932, Dare the Schools Build a New Social Order,73 George Counts states that schools are “in the grip of conservative forces and [are] serving the cause of perpetuating ideas and institutions suited to an age that is gone.”74 In this analysis Counts personifies the merger of the two strands contrasted in the question of whether schools mirror the existing social order or transform it. He asserts that schools must lead society and be radical agents for change, while at the same time he states unequivocally that the child does not live in a world of its own, but is a social being and the role of the schools is to teach him or her about culture and heritage.
Criticism of education recently put forward by conservatives in the USA asserts that American schools teach liberalism, and an agnostic humanism. This condemnation reveals that the schools, if not harbingers of change, are at least reflective of dynamic changes taking place in the society. In so doing, therefore, schools are both intimately involved in responding to social transformation by incorporating changes into the discourse, and at the same time they are mirroring the society that already exists. Schools in actuality are not then, cutting edge social activists, but they may often encourage and enhance change by reflecting what is happening in society. This is the age-old battle between what Michael James called the “ongoing tension between the historically sanctified rights of the individual and the needs of the community.”75
This debate in the USA between the two ends of the political spectrum, what are usually classified as liberal or progressive advocates of social reconstruction versus conservative or traditional voices, has dominated educational discourse. Social reconstructionists have participated in the educational debates since the Great Depression. Their goals, simply put, are to bring about social equality and equity for minority groups, women and others who are denied access to power and who are perennially discriminated against, economically and socially. This orientation is termed, critical pedagogy.
The players on the other, or conservative side of the debate, which has gained considerable popular support since the years of Ronald Reagan, often justify their ideology within the realm of and in the language of the reconstructionists. It would appear reprehensible and morally debauched to advocate social inequality, therefore representatives of the new right couch their agenda as a necessary response to the excesses of an overly leftist educational philosophy. They claim that for years American education has been in the hands of moral relativists. That “we neglected and denied much of the best in American Education.”76 They see the emphasis on pluralism and multiculturalism as an attack on the traditional values of the nuclear family, and the Protestant ethic of hard work and patriotism, values which, according to proponents of right-wing educational reform, are directly tied to America’s economic well-being as a nation. William Bennett, Reagan’s Secretary of Education, claimed that liberal education has taken Americans away from “the principles of our tradition.” Studies such as A Nation at Risk, stressed not only the need to return to basics and increase standards and accountability, but warned of the continuing decline in substance and discipline in the modern American classroom.
These efforts have succeeded in shifting the debate about the goals of education to the right. They have attacked the school curriculum “for its supposed anti-family and anti-free-enterprise bias, its secular humanism, its lack of patriotism, and its neglect of the Western tradition.”77 The right has exerted pressure to make the needs of business and industry the primary goals of the educational system. Often, the points raised by the right play on the fears of people–America will lose its dominance in the world if our children are not taught proper patriotic perspectives. The right has worked to move the discourse about educational goals from the expansion of equality of opportunity, which was the general ideology of the liberal perspective, to focus on standardization, accountability, violence in the classrooms, industrial productivity.
Conservatives and liberals have waged an ongoing battle about the need for multicultural education. Donald Thomas in an article, “The Limits of Pluralism,” published in Phi Delta Kappan in April 1981, argues that multicultural education makes it impossible for the schools to teach a “common body of knowledge.” He states that pluralism “destroys any sense of common traditions, values, purposes, and obligations.” He also thinks that at some point, pluralism “tends to create moral anarchy. . . that all values are of equal worth.” He does bring forth the standard caveat of the right that assures us that he is not in favor of inequality or racism, and that there “is certainly nothing wrong with racial and ethnic pride and the desire to give maximum freedom to each individual.” He goes on to assert that the schools can not be expected to “teach every possible belief and every perceived value.” He states unequivocally that there are “limits to pluralism.”
The irony of the criticism leveled at progressive education in the USA, is that in reality their agenda remains unfulfilled. Aided by various legislation since the civil rights movement of the mid-sixties, certain glaring inequalities have been in part addressed though certainly not ameliorated. But, for the most part, schools located in minority areas are still underfunded, and underfunded schools as a rule produce undereducated graduates. Women are still confronted with the “glass ceiling,” not only in the corporate world, but in educational institutions and especially in the halls of government.
Joel Spring comments on American education,
Motivated by self-interest, educational ideals, and beliefs about correct educational practices, the major parts of the political system of American education interact at the local, state, and national levels. The complex web of tensions, conflicts, and ambitions among elected politicians, educational politicians, interest groups, and the knowledge industry keeps the educational system in constant change and turmoil. One could argue that the major disease of the American education system is the constant propensity to change to serve the needs of various politicians and to solve economic and social problems.78
As can be seen, the problem of politically motivated influences of curriculum are endemic in education. William Reid, a British scholar who has written extensively on curriculum development, stated,
The curriculum. . . can within its own terms, be a source of information on religious and cultural differences, and arguments could be made why this might form part of its subject matter, but there is no evidence that access to information is correlated with changes in attitude. To promote curriculum as an instrument for reshaping social values relating to cultural differences is a much more problematic enterprise, especially when the values involved are contentious.79
Textbooks, being the primary site of the transmission of knowledge are powerful instruments in the creation of shared social constructs and in the enterprise of nation-building. Michael Apple, the champion of critical pedagogy in the USA points out that “Whether we recognize it or not, curriculum and more general issues have always been caught up in the history of class, race, gender, and religious conflicts in the United States and elsewhere.”80
The question arises, “Whose knowledge is of most worth?” This dilemma is not only of interest when comparing history textbooks in countries such as India and Pakistan, where differences will be obvious and expected. It is not simply an academic question. When we consider the “immense pressure on the educational system in so many countries to make the goals of business and industry into the primary if not the only goals of schooling,” the issue takes on even greater salience.81
This leads us back to the opening statement of this paper, which links educational reform to a golden future. The accepted litany presupposes that if
teachers and curricula were more tightly controlled, more closely linked to the needs of business and industry, more technically oriented, with more stress on traditional values and workplace norms and dispositions, then the problems of achievement, of unemployment, of international economic competitiveness, of the disintegration of the inner city, and so on would largely disappear.82
We must seriously investigate the extent to which education is embroiled in the realities of unequal power relations. Education is inherently implicated in the politics of culture. Who decides whose knowledge as worthwhile to transmit to future generations as a touchstone of the national ethos, while the culture and history of minorities is often ignored if not defiled? Apple offers the example that in Social Studies textbooks the Middle Ages are often called “the Dark Ages” rather than “the historically more accurate and much less racist phrase ‘the Age of African and Asian Ascendancy’.”83
If textbooks are to be truly democratic and inclusive, democracy must not be relegated to a mere slogan but must be a constitutive principal integrated into every aspect of society. Unfortunately, textbooks usually reflect narrow bureaucratic interests of politicians and industrialists. As Apple points out “the kinds of cultural resources and symbols schools select and organize are dialectically related to the kinds of normative and conceptual consciousness ‘required’ by a stratified society.”84 The curriculum is a tool which functions as ideological mediation between the “material conditions of an unequal society and the formation of the consciousness of the individuals in that society.”85 Apple succinctly explains that education acts in the economic sphere to “reproduce important aspects of inequality.” Once this is understood, it allows us “to unpack a second major sphere in which schooling operates” in the preservation and distribution of “symbolic property–cultural capital.” As institutions of cultural preservation, “schools create and recreate forms of consciousness that enable social control to be maintained without the necessity of dominant groups having to resort to overt mechanisms of domination.”86
At the theoretical and practical level, schools perpetrate a selective tradition, which is passed off as ‘the tradition,’ the significant past–the selectivity is the point. Raymond Williams observes that when “from a whole possible area of past and present, certain meanings and practices are chosen for emphasis, certain other meanings and practices are neglected and excluded.” In this process, symbols and events are “reinterpreted, diluted, or put into forms which support or at least do not contradict other elements within the effective dominant culture.”87 This analysis can deconstruct “the linkages between economic and political power and the knowledge made available (and not made available).”88
The hegemonic nature of schooling in a stratified society, the social ordering which reifies class inequities, becomes more insidious because of the claim to neutrality inherent in education and historical representation. Knowledge made available to students “is a form of cultural capital that comes from somewhere, that often reflects the perspectives and beliefs of powerful segments of our social collectively.”89 Gramsci argued that there are two requirements for ideological hegemony. Our economic order does not simply create categories which saturate our everyday lives. In addition to this must be a “group of ‘intellectuals’ who employ and give legitimacy to the categories, who make the ideological forms seem neutral.”90 It is therefore the duty of educationists to work to change the negative impact of ideologically driven pedagogy.
Some social and economic groups and classes in a society seem to be helped by the way institutions are organized and controlled and some groups are not. The question returns, “Whose knowledge gets into the schools?” Are our schools dominated by vulgar positivism, systems management, structural-functionalism, a process of social labeling, or behavior modification? How does this hidden curriculum work to dehumanize the middle class and disenfranchise the lower classes? Schools are often less concerned with the distribution skills than they are with the distribution of norms and dispositions which are suitable to one’s place in a hierarchical society. . . . the very linkage between technical knowledge and schooling helps generate, not reduce, inequality.
Hegemonic assumptions and colonial paradigms lingering in textbooks in Bangladesh can be seen in an overt and frightening form in the English translation of the ninth/tenth class Social Studies textbook published in 1997 by NCTB.91 The first chapter, devoted to the study of Sociology, “Society, Culture and Civilization,” is simultaneously over-simplistic, uninformative, and over-loaded with disconnected facts and sociological theories. The textbook repeatedly quotes various sociologists and other scholars without any reference to the period or circumstance of the scholar cited. Invariably, the social scientists appropriated to lend academic validity to the textbook’s arguments are European or American. However, their contribution to the field and their theoretical grounding are not mentioned–such strings of officially sanctioned quotes are liberally peppered throughout the textbook. For example, in only two short paragraphs on the initial page of the Sociology section, seven sociologists are quoted with bare mention of their ideas or orientations. Beginning with, “According to the opinion of L.F. Ward and Graham Samner, ‘Sociology is the science of social phenomenon.'” Followed immediately by the sentence, “French sociologist Emile Durkheim says that sociology is the science of social institutions.” And yet another quote in this string, “In the opinion of German sociologist Max Weber, sociology is the study of social actions.” The paragraph ends with the sentence, “According to MacIver and Page, sociology is the only science which studies about social relationship of man and society.” MacIver is quoted in four more places on the next three pages, but the text never mentions who he was and why students should remember what he had to say. Ultimately where is the justification that a fourteen year old Bangladeshi child needs to know this splattering of names of sociologists without adequate context of their social positioning? A detailed explanation of basic sociological concepts would be far more valuable than the staccatoed out-spewing of names of famous and not so famous Euro-American sociologists.
This name dropping continues throughout. For example, on page three under the heading “What is Culture?” after a few sentences explaining “aspects of human life,” the textbook informs that, “E.B. Taylor says, ‘culture is man’s learned knowledge,” immediately followed by, “According to North, ‘Culture is those institutions, customs and traditions which the members of a society inherit from previous generation.” (sic) A few pages later, “sociologist Kingley Davis” is quoted and we are told what “Ogburn and Nimkoff” had to say. The question remains, who are Taylor and North, Ogburn and Nimkoff? And why should these young students care? How does this string of Western names improve their understanding of the workings of society?
Two of the most blatant misuses of long-floated theories of social scientists of the colonial era can be found on page fourteen of this textbook, under the heading “Geographical Factors,” where the “French criminologist Lambroso” (sic) is quoted as saying “that crime occurs due to geographical factor.” (sic) The quote continues, “injury and murder occur more in hilly areas than the plain lands.” No other explanation is given. Since in Bangladesh there is a sharp distinction between the hill tracts and most of the rest of the country, this type of simplistic analysis, brought forth with quotes from a “French criminologist” might cause the children of this nation to develop ideas which could be less than constructive to their society. Besides encouraging a prejudicial rupture in the nation, the reference in incorrect. Cesare Lombroso, not Lambroso, was an Italian criminologist, not French, who argued that criminals had certain recognizable hereditary physical traits. Lombroso’s theory was disproved in the early twentieth century. It was, rather, Montesquieu who attempted to relate criminal behavior to natural, or physical, environment.
It is the textbook’s citing of another of Montesquieu’s now discredited theories that is by far the most blatantly ridiculous and potentially damaging misuse of displaced Western theories found in this textbook, “According to Montesque (sic) cold climate is favourable to independence and tropical climate is favourable for slavery and depotism.” There is absolutely no reason that the school children of Bangladesh, without discussion in the text, should be taught this now highly discredited theory formulated in the mid-eighteenth century.
Added to this preposterous use of questionable theories of environmental determinism propagated at the end of the eighteenth century, is the next section in the textbook which would teach the youth of Bangladesh that they are inherently lazy and indolent. Page fourteen contains this statement, “According to Huntington, mental skill and intelligence are the highest at temperature under 40° F. (sic) The people of the cold countries are hard-working while the people of tropical areas are of idle nature.” Ironically, probably because of a typographical error, the textbook incorrectly states the temperature for maximum intelligence to be 40° F instead of 40° C–it would seem that only those living near the polar regions can lay claim to superior intelligence. However, Ellsworth Huntington’s work, though popular at the turn of the century, especially among colonialists and racists advocating European racial and social dominance, made claims for the superiority of peoples living in temperate, cooler zones in comparison to those living in the warmer tropics. His work is now seen as ethnocentric and of doubtful scientific validity. Nonetheless, how would the Bangladeshi adolescent answer the essay question at the end of this chapter, “Discuss the influence of geographical factors on social life.” If he or she were to argue against the text, would points be lost for disagreeing with what was printed in the textbooks, or would students simply be required to internalize these self-negating perspectives in order to parrot the text and pass the test? Page nineteen of this thus far dubious textbook states, “Every society through its education system teaches it members to play their specific roles so that the members can learn their social values, norms, and habits.” But if these lessons serve to reify class inequities, then the purpose and result of the educational system must be questioned.
History Textbooks: A Brief Comparative Review
Obviously the politics and the self concept of a nation will impact the telling of its history. The American Revolution is often called the “American Rebellion” in British textbooks where the events in India during 1857 are known as the “Sepoy Mutiny” which it is usually called the “First War of Liberation” in history textbooks in South Asia. The treatment of the Bangladesh War of Independence, is a good example where the production of knowledge is based on diverging points of view. In Pakistani textbooks, India’s involvement in the war is described as military aggression,92 whereas in Indian textbooks it is explained as an economic response to millions of refugees who had crossed into West Bengal.93 In Pakistani textbooks published during Z.A. Bhutto’s time, there is no mention of Bangladesh, even though Bhutto recognized Bangladesh in 1974. When a discussion of the split-up of East and West Pakistan is finally described in one Pakistani textbook, it is explained by saying,
Since independence, the leadership of East Pakistan has been in the hands of [separatists, who] in collaboration with the Hindu teachers, polluted the political air and spread poisonous propaganda among the young students of East Pakistan. Bangladesh, in fact, was the sequel of that poisonous propaganda which the separatist elements and pro-Hindu teachers had been spreading in the educational institutions of East Pakistan.94
There is no mention of the Six-Point Plan of the Awami League nor the cancellation of the national elections of 1970. This one short and ill informed paragraph about the emergence of Bangladesh is all that the students learn from their history textbooks about the break up of East and West Pakistan.
Before coming to Bangladesh, I interviewed several Bangladesh students attending graduate school at The University of Texas at Austin who told the story very differently. According to them, immediately after 1971, textbooks told of economic exploitation–“West Pakistan was the beneficiary of income produced in the East, and foreign aid money was used for development in the West.” Textbooks described “the violent clashes on Language Day in 1952, after which Bangladeshi nationalism gradually developed.” The negative influence of “pro-Hindu teachers” was not stressed, in fact, ironically, the contribution of the Hindu minority is rarely mentioned. The story goes that the War of Independence began after Sheikh Mujib’s Awami League won the majority in the parliament and “West Pakistan denied the elections, followed by the March 26 massacre.” Textbooks published immediately after independence, glorified the freedom fighters whose “guerrilla warfare wore down the Pakistani army.” Mention was made of “wide spread human rights abuses by the Pakistani occupation forces.” India’s role, during the last two weeks was mentioned in early Bangladeshi textbooks, “but it was not considered to be decisive in liberation on December 16.”
According to my interviewees, in textbooks published after Mujib’s assassination, during the years of General Zia’s and General Ershad’s military rule, the “help of the Indian army is not mentioned.” The role of the freedom fighters and their slogan, “Joy Bangla were systematically eliminated from the media and textbooks during the eighties.” The generals sought friendly relations with Pakistan, and in textbooks, “Pakistan is not mentioned explicitly as the enemy, references are simply to an anonymous ‘enemy army.'” Unlike many middle aged Bangladeshis, who may harbor resentments for “rape and pillage” perpetuated by the Pakistani army, some among the younger generation may have been “unaware that Pakistan was actually ‘the enemy.'” My informants claimed that there may be a generation who mistakenly thought that “Bangladesh army fought the India army.”95 Now, with the Awami League back in power, the textbooks are again being modified and the role of the “Muktijudha” (Freedom Fighters), restored.96
Pakistani textbooks are particularly prone to a historical narrative manipulated by omission and erasure. “The ‘recasting’ of Pakistani history [has been] used to ‘endow the nation with a historic destiny.'”97 Textbooks in Pakistan are the domain of distorted politics which have victimized the Social Studies curriculum. For example, in 1953, prior to Ayub Khan’s period, the second half of the seventh grade Geography and Civics textbook,98 published by the West Pakistan Textbook Board, was devoted to a discussion of various political systems, such as democracy, theocracy, dictatorship, and federalism. In a subsequent edition of this seventh grade Geography and Civics textbook99 published in 1962, after Ayub Khan’s military government had taken control of the country, the discussions of comparative political systems were eliminated, and instead, chapters such as “What It Means to Be a Good Pakistani,” and “Standing in Queue” are included. Perceived political imperatives shaped the alterations in the textbooks.
The government schools in Pakistan, which cater to the non-elites, use the textbooks published by the provincial textbooks boards. Each province writes and publishes textbooks based on the curriculum directives issued by the Ministry of Education in Islamabad. All textbooks are reviewed and approved by the Curriculum Wing. During the years of Z.A. Bhutto, when he strove to win the support of the religious sectors of the population, he had the textbooks revised to reflect his policies. An integrated Pakistan, that was one strong Islamic nation which could overcome separatist movements and prevent another splitting such as the creation of Bangladesh, was his motivation. To appease the conservative clerics, such policies as the declaration that Ahamadis were “non-Muslims” were enacted under Z.A. Bhutto. The textbooks continued to lay even greater stress on the Islamic perspective of historical events. Islamiyat was made a required subject up until grade eight. The use of the phrase, “The Ideology of Pakistan” had already been inserted into Social Studies textbooks during Bhutto’s first term.
In contemporary Pakistani textbooks the historical narrative is based, as mentioned, on the Two Nation Theory which begins with the advent of Islam in South Asia, when Mohammed-bin-Qasim arrived in Sindh followed a few centuries later by Mahmud Ghaznavi riding through the Khyber Pass, 16 times, bringing the Light of Islam to the infidels who “converted en mass” to escape the “evil domination” of the “cruel Brahmins.” Reviewing a selection of textbooks published since 1972 in Pakistan will verify the assumption that there are little or no discussions of the ancient cultures that flowered in the land that is now Pakistan, such as Taxila and Mohenjo-Daro. Any mention of Hinduism is inevitably accompanied by derogatory critiques, and none of the greatness of Indic civilization is considered–not even the success of Chandragupta Maurya, who defeated, or at least frightened the invading army of Alexander the Great at the banks of the Beas River where it flows through the land that is now called Pakistan. These events are deemed meaningless since they are not about Muslim heroes. There is an elision in time between the moment Islam first arrived in Sindh and Muhammad Ali Jinnah.
This shortsighted approach to historiography was not always the case. Up until 1972, the textbooks included much more elaborate sections on the history of the subcontinent, while adopting the colonial frame of periodization–the books described the Hindu Period, The Muslim Period and the British Period. History textbooks, such as Indo Pak History, Part 1 published in 1951, included chapters called “Ramayana and Mahabharata Era,” “Aryans’ Religion and Educational Literature,” the “Caste System,” “Jainism and Buddhism,’ “Invasions of Iranians and Greeks,” “Chandra Gupta Maurya,” “Maharaja Ashok,” “Maharaja Kaniska,” “The Gupta Family,” “Maharaja Harish,” “New Era of Hinduism,” “The Era of Rajputs”.100
This orientation, reflected in the chronologically organized tables of contents of these textbooks from the fifties, was prevalent in many government sponsored textbooks until 1971. These history books also, quite naturally, included numerous chapters on the history of Islam including the life of the Prophet and the rise of the Muslim Ummah. The older editions of Pakistani textbooks indicate that the social studies curriculum was not always estranged from South Asian history and culture. A textbook published in 1971 for use at a military academy had, for example, a chapter titled, “Mahatma Gandhi, Man of Peace”.101
Beginning with Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and accelerating under the Islamized tutelage of General Zia-ul Haq, not only has all non Islamic history in the subcontinent been discarded, but it has been vilified and mocked and transformed into the evil other, a measure of what Pakistan is not. Z. A. Bhutto’s influence on the textbooks was profound-he was furious at India, whom he blamed for the break-up of the country. Though his mother was a Hindu, he vehemently launched an anti-Indian campaign with vituperative anti-Hindu rhetoric, swearing that his countrymen would “eat grass” in order to compete with India’s nuclear program and vowing to fight a “thousand years war” for Kashmir. Politically weak, he needed to play the hate-the-Hindus-card, to shore up his popularity. The legacy of his orchestrated hatred is still the basis of Pakistani historical narratives where Gandhi is now only referred to as a conniving bania.102
Z.A. Bhutto strove to win the support of the religious sectors of the population and had the textbooks altered to placate these factions. An integrated Pakistan, that was one strong Islamic nation which could overcome separatist movements and prevent another splitting such as the creation of Bangladesh, was the mandate. To appease the conservative clerics, such policies as the declaration that Ahamadis were “non-Muslims” were enacted under Z.A. Bhutto. The textbooks continued to lay even greater stress on the Islamic perspective of historical events. Islamiyat was made a required subject up until grade eight. The use of the phrase, “The Ideology of Pakistan” had already been inserted into social studies textbooks during Bhutto’s first term, and as mentioned above, pre Islamic South Asian history was obliterated. Despite all this, Bhutto gets very little credit for Islamization, one textbook calling his efforts “too little, too late.”
The military coup that ended Bhutto’s second term and eventually his life, brought his protégé General Zia-ul Haq to power. Islamization began in full measure. Non-Muslims, such as the Hindus in rural Sindh, were stripped of many of their rights and made to vote in separate electorates. Blasphemy laws were often used selectively against non-Muslims. The phrase “Ideology of Pakistan” was installed with vigor and all the textbooks were rewritten to reassert the Islamic orientations of Pakistani nationalism, according to General Zia’s socio-political decrees. It has now been twelve years since Zia, along with his airplane, top military brass and the American ambassador, were blown from the sky. Yet, the textbooks he authorized have survived four democratically elected governments, and the propagandistic tone of the historical narrative is still taught as absolute truth to the youth of Pakistan. Zia is depicted as benevolent and religious minded, a discourse that remained in the textbooks published in the 1990’s during the two tenures of his protégé, Nawaz Sharif. Benazir Bhutto was too preoccupied with remaining in power to concern herself about the revision of curriculum.
From their government issued textbooks, students are taught that Hindus are backwards, superstitious, they burn their widows and wives, and that Brahmins were inherently cruel, and if given a chance, would assert their power over the weak, especially Muslims and Shuddras, depriving them of education. In their Social Studies classes, students are taught that Islam brought peace, equality, and justice to the subcontinent and only through Islam could the sinister ways of Hindus be held in check. In Pakistani textbooks “Hindu” rarely appears in a sentence without the words conniving or manipulative.
Zia-ul Haq made Islamiyat a required subjects up through the master’s level. At the intermediate and secondary level, History and Geography were replaced by Pakistani Studies, a composite of patriotic discourses, justification of the Two-Nation Theory, Muslim heroes, and discussions of the superiority of Islamic principals over Hinduism. As mentioned earlier, all history that concerned pre-Islamic events of the territory which is now Pakistan, such as Mohenjo-Daro and Taxila, were eliminated or made irrelevant by brevity.
Mahmud of Ghazni is seen as a hero, a near-Messiah, bringing truth and justice to the subcontinent. Pillage and looting are not mentioned, except in the context of accusing Indian historians of focusing exclusively on this aspect of his incursions into the subcontinent. His motivations, according to the textbooks written within the narrow constraints of the “Ideology of Pakistan” were purely religious. Aurangzeb is seen as a devout and pious Muslim, stitching caps and endowing mosques, fratricide is not mentioned. Akbar is usually omitted, his secularism and cultural synthesis does not fit in with the infallibility of the Two-Nation Theory. There is no room in the historical narrative for questions or alternative points of view. Many educated Pakistanis, as well as the semi-literates, are devoted to this mono-perspectival religious orientation. There is no other correct way to view the historical record. It is, after all, since the time of General Zia, a capital crime to talk against the “Ideology of Pakistan.” According to A.H. Nayyar, “What is important in the exercise is the faithful transmission, without any criticism or re-evaluation, of the particular view of the past which is implicit in the coming to fruition of the ‘Pakistan Ideology.'”103
In Pakistani textbooks, “Eras and events deemed either irrelevant, hostile or inconvenient to the fulfillment of the Pakistan Movement are omitted.”104 Though it is not surprising that the Vedic Age and the Gupta Age would not be emphasized, what is startling is “the complete omission from some textbooks of any reference to East Bengal/Pakistan and the creation of Bangladesh.”105 Pakistani textbooks have a particular problem when defining geographical space. The terms “South Asia” and “subcontinent” have partially helped to solve this problem of the geo-historical identity of the area formally known as British India. However, it is quite difficult for Pakistani textbook writers to ignore the land now known as India when they discuss Islamic heroes and Muslim monuments in the subcontinent. This reticence to recognize anything of importance in India, which is almost always referred to as “Bharat” in both English and Urdu versions of the textbooks, creates a difficult dilemma for historians writing about the Moghul Dynasties. It is interesting to note that M.A. Jinnah strongly protested the Congress appropriation of the appellation ‘India’, but his arguments were dismissed by Mountbattan. Because Pakistani textbook writers are constrained by the imperative of representing all facts and events in the historical record of South Asia as proving the inevitability of the Two Nation Theory, there is, by necessity of this agenda, numerous misrepresentations by omission. Geography also falls prey to this ideological orientation, as can be seen in this quote from one of the many textbooks titled,Pakistani Studies,
During the 12th century the shape of Pakistan was more or less the same as it is today . . . Under the Khiljis, Pakistan moved further south-ward to include a greater part of Central India and the Deccan. . . In retrospect it may be said that during the 16th century ‘Hindustan’ disappeared and was completely absorbed in ‘Pakistan’.106
This communal writing of history in Pakistan is contrasted by the orientation of the textbooks published by the National Center for Educational Research and Training (NCERT) in New Delhi, where the stated goal of Social Studies education is national integration. Arjun Dev, Department Head of Social Studies at NCERT explained to me, “We are very careful not to write anything that could be construed as defamatory against Islam or any religion.”107 It is obvious that “the ‘Pakistan Ideology’, on the one hand, and post-Independence resolutions to eradicate communalism from India, on the other, have shaped the preoccupations, and sometimes the logic, of textbooks writers in both countries.”108
The British National Curriculum stresses an “integrative” role for the history curriculum “in imparting knowledge of the diversity of cultures within Britain.” In order to achieve this, it was determined that “the study of non-Western civilizations” which includes South Asia, should be taught “from their own perspective.” What is glaringly ironic is that the identification of a South Asian “perspective”109 on “civilization” is itself highly controversial.
Contestatory points of view are particularly evident in the polarity between the treatment of the Mughal emperors Akbar and his great grandson Aurangzeb. In this context, it would seem logical that Pakistani textbooks would delve at length on the “medieval period’ of Islamic ascendancy in South Asia. What is “surprising, given the opportunity it would present for capitalizing on a ‘golden age’ of Mughal glory,” is the discursive treatment of information provided about this period in the standard Pakistan Studies textbook. Powell explains this as the “pre-occupation of the syllabus, . . . with the final ‘fulfillment’ stage of the ‘Two Nations’ premise through the creation of Pakistan in the mid-twentieth century.”110
Mubarak Ali, a historian living in Lahore, asserts that Akbar has been systematically eliminated from most textbooks in Pakistan in order to “divert attention away from his ‘misplaced’ policies.”111 Discussions of Akbar are short and superficial, where they exist, such as in Social Studies for Class VI,112 where he is simply listed, but events of his life not elaborated upon. In Pakistani Studies Class IX-X,113 Akbar’s name is not among the early Muslim rulers of India and in Pakistani Studies for Secondary Classes,114 he is not included in the text among Mahmud of Ghazni, Babur, Humayun, and Aurangzeb. That Pakistani textbooks often fail to even include Akbar’s name in the brief discussions of the Moghul Period is an amazing feat of historiography in which fifty years are simply erased. In the Pakistan Studies115 written by Rabbini & Sayyid, Akbar is mentioned only while discussing Shaikh Ahmad Sirhindi, who according to Mubarak Ali, “is projected as a hero challenging Akbar’s religious policy and restoring Islamic values in India.”116
Akbar, in secular Indian textbooks,117 is seen as a just and truly Indian ruler, the father of national integration, which is in direct contrast to the perception of Pakistani historians and curriculum writers who see Akbar as harmful to the ultimate interests of Muslims in the subcontinent. Both Indian and Western historiography represents Akbar’s reign as “a high peak of cultural assimilation and religious harmony.”118 While Pakistani historians see Akbar’s religious theories as apostasy, Indian textbooks represent him as the first truly “Indian” ruler, who along with Ashoka before him, personified the liberal, pan-Indian leader. In her textbook, Medieval India, Romila Thapar states, “Akbar’s great dream was that India should be united as one country. People should forget their differences of region and religion and think of themselves only as the people of India.’119 That this famous historian uses the device of presentism to analyze the past can perhaps be forgiven since she is using a voice aimed at children.
In contrast to the dismissive treatment of Akbar and the less than detailed discussions of the other Mughals, with the exception of Aurangzeb who appears ubiquitously as an orthodox and pious Muslim copying the holy Quran and sewing caps for his livelihood, the Pakistan Studies syllabus devotes considerable space to Muhammad-bin-Qasim who is hailed for bringing Islam to the subcontinent. In Social Studies For Class VI,120 the story of the Arabs’ arrival in Sindh is narrated as the first moment of Pakistan with the glorious ascendancy of Islam. This textbook tells the young sixth class school children of Sindh that, “The Muslims knew that the people of South Asia were infidels and they kept thousands of idols in their temples.” The Sindhi king, Raja Dahir, is described as cruel and despotic. “The non-Brahmans who were tired of the cruelties of Raja Dahir, joined hands with Muhammad-bin-Qasim because of his good treatment.” According to this historical orientation,
The conquest of Sindh opened a new chapter in the history of South Asia. Muslims had ever lasting effects on their existence in the region. . . For the first time the people of Sindh were introduced to Islam, its political system and way of the government. The people here had seen only the atrocities of the Hindu Rajas. . . . The people of Sindh were so much impressed by the benevolence of Muslims that they regarded Muhammad-bin-Qasim as their savior. . . . Muhammad-bin-Qasim stayed in Sindh for over three years. On his departure from Sindh, the local people were overwhelmed with grief.121
When I visited Hyderabad, Sindh in 1997, I discussed the contents of this textbook with local Sindhis, who assured me that they told their children an alternative version of this story. They informed me that any good Sindhi knows that “in several cities in ancient Sindh, Muhammad-bin-Qasim beheaded every male over the age of eighteen and that he sent tens of thousands of Sindhi women to the harems of the Abbassid Dynasty.” They also explained that impact of these textbooks was minimal because, though the back of the book indicated that 20,000 copies were supposedly printed annually, that, because of corruption, “fewer than 10,000 were ever printed and distributed.”122
Though I can not verify whether the majority of Sindhis resent Muhammad-bin-Qasim, it is true that they are often sensitive about their position vis-à-vis Pakistani society. They see a rupture between the expectations of a free homeland promised by the Muslim league and the repercussions of centralized politicized policies emanating from Islamabad which have left them disempowered in their own land. Three decades after calling for the creation of Pakistan in 1939, G.M Syed, the grandfather of Sindh nationalism, called on Indira Gandhi during the Bangladesh war of independence to send troops to Sindh and free it of Pakistani exploitation, creating a “Sindhudesh”. He spent the rest of his live under house arrest. This exploitation and loss of identity is continuing at an accelerated rate.
While Pakistan Studies textbooks portray Muhammad-bin-Qasim as the initial agent of Islamization who started a movement that transformed the subcontinent, Indian textbooks though “appreciative of the cultural and scientific consequences of contact at this time with what is generally perceived as the ‘highly civilized’ world” consider that Arabs had a minimal impact on the history of the subcontinent. In Medieval India: A History Textbooks for Class XI, Satish Chandra treats the “Arab invasion of Sind as a localized affair.”123
To the disregard of the Delhi Sultanate, the standard Pakistan Studies treatment contracts the centuries between Muhammad-bin-Qasim and Mahmud of Ghazni who is considered another grandfather of modern Pakistan. Whereas Muhammad-bin-Qasim is lauded as a kind-hearted young prince, a beneficent warrior, Mahmud of Ghazni is defended by Pakistani historians who are critical of Indian and Western historians who generally discuss him in terms of plunder, explaining his numerous excursions into India in economic, rather than religious terms. Mahmud of Ghazni is described in many Pakistani Studies textbooks as a crusader whose main objective was to bring the light of Islam to the pagans of the subcontinent by waging a holy jehad. Husain, in her book, The Illustrated History of Pakistan, though discussing his plundering of temples, concludes that Mahmud “left the greatest monument of all: the gift of Islam.”124 Qasim and Ghazni are seen as stepping stones to the story of the “Ideology of Pakistan.”
As this defensive posture in Pakistani textbooks suggests, the tendency in Indian textbooks is to treat Mahmud of Ghazni as a plunderer, dismissing his religious motivations. But as can be seen in Thapar’s description, his religious motivation is also considered, “He had heard that there was much gold and jewelry kept in the big temples in India, so he destroyed the temples and took away the gold and jewelry. . . . Destroying temples had another advantage. He could claim, as he did, that he had obtained religious merit by destroying images.”125 Shatish Chandra states that Mahmud’s “love of plunder went side by side with the defense of Islam.”126
These oppositional viewpoints regarding Mahmud of Ghazni are characterized by ironic motivations. NCERT textbooks are intended to be culturally neutral, guided by the JNU school of secularism and socialism. As such, they are reticent to give too much weight to the jihad perspective, since many Indians are quite sensitive concerning the legacy of conversions. In contrast, Pakistani textbooks proudly proclaim that Mahmud rode into India under the “flag of Islam” to convert the “pagans of the subcontinent.” Textbooks in India, published by NCERT, in a effort to follow their mandate to include Muslim sentiments in their historical analyses and to promote national integration, prefer to talk about economic motivations so as not to cast Mahmud as an iconoclast bent on conversions, which would appear far more negative and insulting to the Hindus of India than an economic analysis, which is more palatable to their sensitivities. Yet this very orientation is offensive to the Muslims of Pakistan, who hail his iconoclasm as the duty of a good Muslim, and an integral aspect of the arrival of Islam in South Asia. Such are the complexities inherent in the narration and interpretation of controversial historical events.
Aurangzeb has a earned a similarly controversial place in the controversial historical record of the subcontinent. According to Zafar, Aurangzeb “reversed the policies of Akbar, and made a genuine effort to give the State an Islamic orientation. Under Aurangzeb the Pakistan spirit gathered in strength.”127 Though Husain in part blames Aurangzeb for the decline of the Mughal Empire, she ultimately acts as his apologist when she explains that he was caught in “a ‘vicious circle’ set in motion by Akbar’s misplaced ‘religious adventurism’.” which then precipitated an ‘opposite reaction’ characterized in Aurangzeb’s reign by ‘anti-Hindu policies’, which in their turn created a Hindu back-lash. She defends Aurangzeb against critiques:
Because of Aurangzeb’s religious fervor, historians tend to judge him according to their own religious leanings. Hindu and Christian historians often present Aurangzeb’s religious policies as the main cause of the disintegration of the Mughal Empire, while some Muslim historians try to completely ignore the negative effects of these policies.128
The interpretations of various events and characters in the long history of South Asia, are perceived diametrically by the writers of school textbooks. In Indian textbooks Aurangzeb is usually credited with reversing Akbar’s policy of religious toleration, a policy which led to general discontent among the Hindus. In Pakistan, the inevitability of a separate Muslim nation in the subcontinent is supported by their interpretations of the Islamic experience where in Hindus and Muslims had always constituted distinct and irreconcilably separate commuities. The Indian curriculum, in sharp contrast to the Pakistani position, argues that the divide and rule policies of the British created communalism, which was not inherent in the interaction of Hindus and Muslims, and that communalism “has its roots in the modern colonial socio-economic political structure.”129
Bangladesh Social Studies textbooks discuss the conquest of Sindh in the sixth and seventh grade. The seventh grade book informs us that “Dahir lost his life in the battle field. His wife Rani Bai . . . and the other women in the fort laid down their lives by jumping into fire.” Without defaming Raja Dahir, this textbook offers a somewhat sympathetic, if brief version of the story. The sixth grade text states briefly that
The Arab conquest of Sind had far reaching effects in the cultural field. Islam made remarkable influence over the sub-continent. The India society crumbled in racial differences and inequalities. In contrast to that were unity, equality, and fraternity in Islam. As a result, a large number of Buddhists and low-caste Hindus were attracted to Islam and they became Muslims.130
It is worth noting that in the very next paragraph, the textbook seems to contradict itself by saying that “The Muslim period did not begin with the Arab conquest of Sind. Because this conquest was short-lived and left no political permanent impact.” The text explains that
Muslim invasions of much greater importance and political effect began about three centuries after the conquest of Sind. In this phase, Sultan Mahmud of Ghazni made as many as seventeen successful expeditions against India between the years 100 and 1027 A.D. These weakened the Indian kings to resist the coming onslaught of the Muslims.
Mahmud of Ghazni is described as “an efficient ruler and valiant warrior.” In the textbook for the seventh grade class the textbook writers again seem to have it both ways when they say that “Ghazni plundered the wealth from India. . . [but] he never directed invasion being inspired with religious bigotry. But he used Islam as a political tool against the infidels.”131 In both books, the discussion of the history of greater India is used primarily as a spring board leading to discourse about the Islamic interface in Bengal. In general, Social Studies textbooks in Bangladesh focus on the history of the subcontinent mainly in the context of it eventual relationship to the history of Bengal and the inevitablity of the emergence of Bangaldesh. Though I have only begun researching this historical narratives used in the history textbooks in Bangladesh, it can be observed that the tone and intent is far less communal than comparable textbooks from Pakistan.
The NCTB textbook for the seventh class, states that “Akbar was liberal in his religious belief.” It describes a ruler who liked to discuss religion with people from all faiths to whom he listened “with attention [and] at last he formulated a new religion with the essence of all religions. This was called Din-Elahi. Akbar did not force anybody to accept this religion.”132
The two textbooks published in 1997 by NCTB for class nine are intended to primarily cover the history of Bangladesh and do not have a discussion of either Mohammed-bin-Qasim or Akbar, however, the textbook published for class nine in 1973133 gives a fairly in-depth and even-handed description of the religious policies of Akbar on page 167, which warrants being reproduced in it entirety,
Akbar was very liberal on religious issues. He could properly realize that the real unity among the people of the various religions must follow the end of religious conflicts. For the stability of the Mughal Empire this unity was very much necessary. With his religious policies Akbar actually wanted to solve a basic problem of India. He was a seeker after truth. . . . He used to merge into the deep discussion with the religious scholars of various religions including the Muslims, the Hindus, the Buddhists, the Jains, the Parsis, the Christians and listened to their explanations. Akbar realized that followers of every religion were believers of some certain absolute truth and that every religion had some universal moral foundation through which unity among followers of all religions could be attained. He could also understand that religious excess and orthodoxy and lack of tolerance were at the root of all untoward events. By removing these faultiness a wise Akbar made special efforts to bring about a real unity among the people and to attain their real moral development.
Inspired by the same motive he established a new religion. Its name was Din-e-Ilahi or Tawhid-e-Ilahi. In his everyday life the Emperor Akbar accepted some customs of the Hindus, the Parsis, and the Jains. But the orthodox people could not realize its worth. He also declared that his verdict would be final on Islamic laws. In this connection Akbar received support of some Ulemas (religious scholars). Intolerant conservatives could realize the value of Akbar’s liberal attitudes and that is why they strongly condemned him. But Akbar’s efforts did not go in vain. His efforts helped to bring about unity among the people of many religions.134
If the nature of a nation’s Social Studies curriculum is, in varying degrees, determined by “the creation, preservation, or merely the ‘understanding’ of the twentieth-century ‘nation’ and its culture, then . . . what each syllabus will then encompass over time and space is. . . pre-determined by such objectives.”135 From these above examples from Bangladeshi textbooks, the agenda of the NCTB is certainly less constrained by narrow communal interests and reflects the inherently liberal and secular orientation of the Bengali intellectual traditions. This situation can be contrasted to Pakistan, where “ideology has . . .made a myth of history in the portrayal of . . . national heroes.”136 Where “nation-building agendas. . .take a priority over disinterested academic study, history becomes a medium for transmitting goals for the future.”137
Indian textbooks sponsored by NCERT can be contrasted to those published by historians associated with the Indian History and Culture Society (IHCS ) which are critical of and in sharp contrast to the NCERT series. These types of non-governmental textbooks often include rhetoric that makes statements such as “the Muslim rule was a period of unmitigated suffering and misery.”138 Though in general, historians of the NCERT textbook series write from a concertedly non-communal perpective, other Indian historians are not always free from certain communal assertions. The famous historian, R.C. Majumdar, who began his illustrious career at Dhaka University prior to the partition of the subcontinent teaches that religion was an essential element in the composition of India’s past and that Hindus and Muslims had always constituted separate communities.139 In his book, Glimpses of Bengal in the Nineteenth Century, Majumdar emphasizes the sharp divide that characterized inter-religious relationships.
A fundamental and basic difference between the two communities was apparent even to the casual observer. Religious and social ideas and institutions counted for more in men’s lives in those days than anything else; and in these two respects the two differed as poles asunder140 . . . It is a strange phenomenon that although the Muslims and Hindus had lived together in Bengal for nearly six hundred years, the average people of each community knew so little of the other’s traditions.141
In the Recommendations of the National Steering Committee on Textbooks Evaluation, an alternative reading of the critiques made by the textbook review committee, in the context of the vast history of the subcontinent, is that many historical perspectives are contestatory, and there is not a consensus, especially in light of new research in the post-colonial period that has stimulated revolutionary but well reasoned debates discrediting previously accepted theories. The textbook review committee was uniformly critical of the inclusion of these post-colonial histories because they did not fit neatly into the ideology of the modern secular, socialist Indian state. Such clashes and controversies exist in other educational systems and can easily be seen in the countries of the former Soviet Union, as they move away from the restricted ideology of the communist state and forge alternate views of who they are and how they will inculcate their progeny, as well as in the discussion mentioned above that was generated by the National History Standards in the USA. The goals of education, besides the ubiquitous agreement of teaching children the three R’s, are in a perpetual state of flux in all societies and dependent on variables outside of the classroom in the broader social milieu.
Whither Contemporary History in Bangladeshi Textbooks
The Social Studies textbooks currently published by the National Curriculum and Textbooks Board in Bangladesh are in general noncommunal in tone, except for a few unfortunate references to “degenerate Hindu influences.” The NCTB textbooks, though usually scantily informative, are up to date regarding the rest of the world, including such details as the Gulf War in 1990 and the situation in Bosnia in 1995. Though there are textbooks which include ancient histories of Rome and other general historical information, the majority of the pages in the social studies textbooks are dedicated to the development of Bengali nationalism and the emergence of Bangladesh. In textbooks published in 1997, descriptions of the struggle for autonomy from Pakistani dominance explain the exploitation, the political treachery, the valiant and bloody war of liberation. At which point the narrative ends. Ends.
Nationalism was achieved. The Bengali nation came into being with the blood of millions of martyrs, and the rape of two hundred thousand innocent women and girls. These heroes and heroines gave their lives and were subjected to terror and torture so that they and their fellow Bengalis could have among other rights, the freedom to tell the history of their nation in their own terms. Yet, once independence was achieved, the contemporary history of their nation ceased to be written. Textbooks designed for Bangladeshi students, delve into the distant past and speak of the lasting influences of Buddhism on the Bengali psyche, discuss the dynamic and relevant contributions of such Hindu greats as Ram Mohan Roy and Rabindranath Tagore. By winning the War of Liberation they not only saved their country from a narrow view of history based on the Two Nation Theory, which would erase five thousand years, but they recaptured it from the communal forces so that they could describe a proud past that stretches back into distant millennia and includes heroes of various non-Islamic religions.
Ironically, after the success of such a heroic effort, the curriculum committees were unable to continue writing the history of their country. They eagerly rewrote the story of the ancient past, rescuing it from the short sighted perspective of Pakistani textbooks editors. They detailed the events that characterized the past, they glorified the growth of Bengali nationalism, irregardless of the religion of the Bengali leader, they reveled in the stories of resistance to Pakistani autocracy and the drive for freedom and democracy. . . the “inevitability of Bangladesh”. . . but, at that point, the story ends, at least in the textbooks.
The rest of the world continues to have a history–the Soviet Union collapses, Blacks gain the right to vote in South Africa–all these are mentioned in contemporary Bangladeshi textbooks. Yet there is no discussion of the assassination of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, no mention of the murder of General Zia in today’s textbooks, nothing about the Ershad period and the drive to end the military rule and in 1991 the restoration of democracy. The Gulf War and the Balkans are discussed. . . but in Bangladeshi textbooks, contemporary history seems to have ended as soon as the nation came into being. The Secondary Civics textbook published in 1998 mentions the fifth amendment which created a presidential form of government and has one sentence about the indemnity ordinance which it describes as a disgrace. But other than that, in the textbooks published in modern, democratic Bangladesh, designed to teach the youth of the nation their history and inculcate national identity, there is no discussion of the country, post-1971. The textbooks only describe the events leading up to the creation of Bangladesh. They do not discuss the history of the nation after its heroic inception. Though the history of the rest of the world continued, Bangladeshi NCTB historiography-by-committee ignores the events in independent Bangladesh.
This fear of history is the result of the hotly debated, politicized nature of post-independence histories. A crystallized example of this is the difficulty faced when narrating the events of November 7, 1975. Large segments of the society see the events as a great day for Bangladeshi nationalism when the military saved the fledgling country from foreign domination, others view it as a tragic day when the army came out of the cantonment and betraying the populist inception of the insurrection, ushered in sixteen long years of military rule. How would an objective historian recount the events leading up to this date and its consequences? Perhaps two columns, with the opposing points of view could juxtapose the divergent perspectives and empower the students to analyze, instead of simply memorize. Must history be a sanitized consensus, that changes when the political party at the center changes, or is it in fact, a “furious debate informed by evidence and reason.”
In Bangladeshi textbooks, it is ironic that Saddam Hussain’s name appears, but not Colonel Taher. Nelson Mandela’s name appears once, as does Tajuddin Ahmed’s, who is certainly more significant to the situation of the adolescent citizens of Bangladesh. There are numerous noncommunal, academically rigorous, and objective scholars and historians in this country who could write about the events of 1972-1998. Among some intellectuals there is a fear to face the past and others who unfortunately feel straight-jacketed by contemporary political pressures. Yet, it does seem that the time has arrived to add a few more chapters to the school textbooks. The nation came into being against all odds–it’s continuing story should be told to the school children so they can form their own informed ideas and be given adequate information to help them make choices and decisions that will hopefully help to provide Bangladesh with intelligent citizens for the future. The history of Bangladesh certainly did not stop in January, 1972, only the narrative came to an end.