Gojra and education

By Zubeida Mustafa
Source: Dawn

TALKING to a Dawn panel several years ago, Asghar Ali Engineer, head of the Centre for Study of Society and Secularism, Mumbai, had commented that every communal riot in India that he had investigated was found to be rooted in economic factors.

Invariably the majority community attacking a minority wanted to undermine it to gain an unfair economic advantage. But the whole incident was garbed in communal terms.

We will not know the underlying reasons for the horrendous event in Gojra until the episode is investigated from that point of view. HRCP`s findings confirm that the violence was premeditated as is tradionally the pattern in cases of seemingly mindless killings. But there is usually a method to the madness. That within the span of a few hours seven Christians should have been consumed literally by fires born of communal hatred and 70 or so of their homes burnt down is most telling.

What, however, also emerges from the terrible events in Gojra — and also Sangla Hill in 2005 and Shantinagar in 1997 — is how very easy it is for the perpetrators of such crimes to incite people in the name of religion. Thus they can veil their ulterior motives by making an incident appear as an emotional reaction in the face of a provocation, that could well have been concocted.

It is worrying that popular passions can be inflamed at the drop of a hat. A rational mindset and the ability to reason created by good education can go a long way towards developing interfaith harmony, tolerance and understanding of other religions. The week Gojra happened, this paper carried another report that seemingly had no relevance to the tragedy that followed. But the connection between the two was not lost on those who have observed closely the obscurantist proclivity in our national psyche and its close link with the education we impart to our children.

It was reported that the Pakistan Coalition for Education, a network of civil society organisations and individuals, had expressed its strong disapproval of the government`s failure to expedite the announcement of the new education policy that has been in the works for several years.

A visibly upset Kamleshwer Lohana, PCE`s member from Sindh, had remarked cynically, “The education policy is not a priority for the present government. This policy will be applicable only to the poor people — those who are dependent on government educational institutions.” Since the elite control the government they are not concerned.

This is exactly how Javed Hassan Aly, the author of the 2007 White Paper on education also felt. He added, “The government, presently under clouds of public scrutiny, is shy of tackling what it may consider contentious issues. The elite and the for-profit private sector are happy with the status quo which allows them to entrench themselves more securely.” Why should they want a new policy?

Now it seems the delay had an added reason behind it. A revised policy has now been posted on the ministry of education`s website and is to be presented to the cabinet. Compare the draft rejected by the cabinet earlier and the present document. You will discover a new chapter titled `Islamic Education Duty of the Society and the State`.

The earlier draft had recognised explicitly the need for educational interventions to be based on the core value of Islam as identified by the constitution`s chapter on principles of state policy. Apparently that was not found to be adequate. Four extra pages now spell out in detail the Islamic contents of the prescribed courses when earlier a paragraph had sufficed to capture the Islamic spirit to be injected into education in Pakistan.

The emphasis on religion in the new draft is overly exaggerated. It is a forewarning that we can expect to see more of the earlier approach that has been responsible for creating the mindset that resulted in Gojra. Numerous surveys have confirmed that. In fact, it is now conceded that the curricula and textbooks in the regular school system have caused more pervasive damage than the madressahs have, given the small numbers which attend them.

The policy draft with specific reference to NEP 1998-2010 speaks of an “integrated education system in which Islamic values, principles and objectives are reflected in the syllabuses of all the disciplines in general”. It would be pertinent to recall here that NEP 1998-2010 spoke of evolving “an integrated system of national education by bringing deeni madaris and modern schools closer to each stream in curriculum and the contents of education”. This was to be achieved by introducing Nazira Quran as a compulsory component.

How all this translates into practice for the religious minorities is evident from the eye-opening observations made by Prof Anjum Paul, chairman Pakistan Minorities Teachers Association, on the biases against his community. He analysed 12 Urdu language textbooks for class I-XII, and “found 235 chapters and poems out of 409 having a strong Islamic orientation”.

He identifies the biases and discrimination against the religious minorities of Pakistan in textbooks, educational institutions and admission processes. Take the case of Muslim students being awarded 20 marks for nazra (reciting the Quran by heart). This makes it difficult for the minorities to compete for seats in higher education.

Even the textbooks for ethics (a subject introduced a few years ago in lieu of Islamiat for religious minorities) are written by Muslims who obviously cannot identify with the teachings of other religions resulting in bias against Christians, Hindus, Sikhs, Zoroastrians and others. This has failed to create social and inter-faith harmony, Prof Paul says. Recently compulsory training courses for teachers in subjects including qirat were announced. The PMTA regards this as discrimination against teachers from minority communities.

We may repeat ad nauseam the Quaid`s proclamation on “religion or caste or creed” having nothing to do with the “business of the state”, but if we continue to have education policies that preach religious hatred, many more Gojras can be expected.