05 Apr Similar and Different: Common and Problematic
Two books have come out within a year pointing to a serious problem common to India and Pakistan.
Before describing the books let us note that we are now talking about what is common between India and Pakistan. This makes a lot more sense than debating whether Indians and Pakistanis are similar. Indians and Pakistanis have so many differences within their own communities that it is futile to try and reduce them to a single dimension that can then be compared. To take a very simple illustration: there are secular Indians and communal Indians just as there are secular Pakistanis and communal Pakistanis. There is no one type of Indian or Pakistani.
But one can argue that the proportion of the population that is communal today in Pakistan is greater than in India. We are now in different territory – we are talking about a difference between Pakistan and India. Specifically, we are asking what has made Pakistan more communal than India in its outlook?
This is a plausible but hypothetical question. We really do not have evidence to make any such claim with confidence. As we have mentioned in a previous post, we tend to generalize from the small community that dominates the media. We do not have a good sense of how the majorities that are still rural in both countries feel about these issues. All we can say is that on this count there this not much to choose between the newsmakers in the two countries. So, let us leave this as an open empirical question for the moment and return to the books we mentioned at the outset.
The book on Pakistan is Islamisation of Pakistani Social Studies Textbooks by Yvette Claire Rosser (2009). In his review of the book Yoginder Sikand summarizes the key finding:
Although Rosser does not say it in so many words, the current turbulent political scenario in Pakistan, in particular the rise of radical Islamist forces in the country, cannot be seen as inseparable from the narrow political agenda that the Pakistani state, ever since its formation, has consistently sought to pursue as is reflected in the social science textbooks that it has commissioned, and through which it has sought to impose its own ideology on its people.
And this is his conclusion:
Rosser’s findings are of critical importance, particularly in the context of present developments in Pakistan, which is witnessing the alarming growth of radical Islamist groups, impelled by a version of Islam very similar to the one these texts uphold. Obviously, explanations of the growing threat of radical Islamism in Pakistan cannot ignore the crucial role of these texts, which are compulsory reading for all Pakistani students, thus playing a central role in moulding their minds and worldviews. The texts are also a reflection of, as well as a cause for, the pathetic state of social science research and discourse in present-day Pakistan.
The book on India is RSS, School Texts And The Murder Of Mahatma Gandhi: The Hindu Communal Project by Aditya Mukherjee, Mridula Mukerjee and Sucheta Mahajan (2008). Khushwant Singh refers to it here and observes:
I wasn’t aware that the Hindu Mahasabha and the RSS had set up many schools across the country, known as Saraswati Shishu Mandirs and Vidya Bharati Schools. The number of teachers employed runs into thousands; the number of students into hundreds of thousands. They also have a publishing house to print their own textbooks. I was happy to learn this as our country needs more schools — the more the better — as well as more textbooks. However, when I discovered what they teach in these schools, I was sorely disappointed. It is make-believe historical fiction to boost our morale and foster suspicion and hatred against Indian-born minorities who don’t share the same kind of pride in our past, notably Muslims and Christians….
Before you accuse me of anti-RSS and BJP bias, take a look at a booklet — RSS, School Texts and the Murder of Mahatma Gandhi (Sage). It is compiled by three distinguished professors of history at JNU. The source of every quotation is given to prove its authenticity. The basic text is barely 80 pages.
Finally, ask yourself, is this kind of brain-washing of young minds and filling them with hate good for the country? It will turn our sweet dreams of a hate-free Hindustan into a nightmare of vicious civil strife.
The question prompted by these two books is the following: Why do we have this common phenomenon in Pakistan and India?
In Pakistan, analysts are used to attributing it to one person (Zia ul Haq) or to a special juncture in history that aligned the interests of American intelligence, Saudi money, and the Pakistan army in this unholy enterprise. But what explains the emergence of something quite similar in India that had no connection with the Afghan war?
We are forced to concede, at least as a hypothesis, that there are more systemic forces at work that are giving rise to fairly common responses in the two countries.
What could these systemic forces be? We will come back to this question in subsequent posts.
Suggestions from readers are welcome.