The Tribune - Spectrum

, April 28, 2002

Shared heritage but different history textbooks
Cookie Maini

Prejudice and Pride
by Krishna Kumar. Viking. Pages 274. Rs 395.

CONTEMPORARY historians have withstood the pressure of religious zealots as well as political monitors, though there seems to be a fusion of the two as far as the interpretations of historical trends is concerned. However historians have stuck to their commitment to the subject.

As V. N. Dutta, a noted historian, said at Bhopal History Congress: "The power wielders, not trained in the austerities of historical discipline, brandish their swords and dare to pontificate on the purpose and morality of history. History is a scientific discipline and its standards are universal."

Though largely historians have stood by the discipline and spirit of history, increasing specialisation in historical studies, or rather regional studies in history, has encouraged fissiparous thought processes. Being loyal to your own religious beliefs today means denouncing a parallel religion. Similarly, loving India means fervent Pakistan-bashing.


Prejudice and Pride
is most appropriate at this juncture, when children are made aware of their caste, religion and its rituals even before they learn how to spell. These children, growing up on either side of the border — India or Pakistan — will never realise that they have a common past and their ancestors fought for a common cause before they were torn asunder to become sworn enemies.

The author has ventured to tread ground hitherto ignored. He has researched history textbooks that Indian and Pakistani children study at school. A single-minded focus on the goal of inculcating a national consciousness often makes the teaching of history a means of ideological indoctrination.

An interesting dichotomous development in both societies is the diminishing focus on the study of history as a subject, though there are tremendous controversies which have been stoked, allied to historical syllabi and their interpretation.

Though both countries have been discussing the interpretation as well as the rewriting of history. In Pakistan, during the regime of Zia-ul-Haq, it became one of the major vehicles to construct a full-fledged ideological apparatus under the banner of "Islamisation". Moves of a similar nature are now afoot in India, but mercifully there have been enough protests, particularly by historians, so the inherent strength of democracy persists.

This book is pathbreaking because no historian or writer has cared to study or analyze historical portrayal and interpretation in textbooks in juxtaposition of India and Pakistan.

The author has covered a wide range of issues related to the interpretation of history, ideologies, textbooks and the freedom struggle as perceived by the two sides. The best part of the study is how every point of view juxtaposes perceptions on the two sides of the border. He truly laments studies of Partition. Reflections on it would constitute a huge storehouse if we included Indian and Pakistani works in history, politics, biography, literature and journalism. Modest attempts have been made recently to make sense of rival perspectives, but we are quite far from reaching the point where a student might have access to sufficient material for developing a holistic view of Partition.

In a study of ideology and textbooks, the author says: "The textbooks of both countries suffered from the post-colonial syndrome, a moral assessment of the colonised by the coloniser, a substantial part of the epistemology of colonial educational practices was structured around a moral critique of the society and culture."

The most innovative part of the author’s work is the scanning of the 145 essays of school children from Delhi and Lahore; these are from a wide range of schools, both elite as well as government. The conclusion that he arrived at is heartening—that children on both sides of the border want peace despite the subtle indoctrination or prejudiced elements in textbooks.

"If we pool together all the essays written by children of both the countries, we would find a sense of tiredness as an overarching theme, forming a kind of bridge between the children of the two countries. This feeling finds expression in different idioms, but the sources are remarkably similar."

Though it may sound rather far fetched and idealistic in this belligerent atmosphere, why can’t the intellectuals of the two countries meet more often, thrash out controversies, and liberate texts from the elements of false pride and prejudice in which mutual hatred is seeded.