Alka Kumari belongs to the Hindu community and lives in Sargodha, Punjab, Pakistan. She has recently finished her M.Phil degree in English Literature. In her family, Alka is being looked at with surprise and awe because no one believed that she would get a good education and land a decent job. However, this journey of Alka Kumari was not so easy, as she told her story to IBC English, Alka’s face reflected the bitterness of the hardships and misbehaviors she had to endure in the past. Alka says that being a Hindu, she was subjected to inhumane treatment in the classroom and hostel many times. From school to college and from college to university, she had to face a lot in order to prove herself. Alka says her roommate at the hostel initially greeted her warmly, but when she found out that Alka was a Hindu, she changed her room. During her studies too, being a Hindu hardly any girl extended a hand of friendship to her.
“One day in the hostel, someone posted an advertisement on the wall suggesting that we should help every Muslim, so I wondered why only Muslims?” muses Alka and adds “We must serve and help all humanity, regardless of race or religion.”
Alkaa says she wonders that despite her classmates and teachers being good why they chose to stay away from her. She says that after constant thought and reflection, she has come to the conclusion that these attitudes are rooted in our curriculum. We are taught the history that separates us from each other. We are taught what makes us happier to see each other’s defeat than to wish for the success of each other. These inhumane behaviors arise from our curriculum and teaching practices. According to Alka, neither the students nor the society is to be blamed, rather the fault lies with the force, which has brought the society to this stage.
Is Alka’s thinking wrong?
There is nothing wrong with Alka’s thinking, we have included in our curriculum a number of terms and historical events which, after reading, create feelings of pride or hatred against each other instead of creating religious and social harmony among the students. For example, the concepts like the treacherous Hindu Baniya, two different nations, the cow-mother, the idol-worshiper, the Ghauri, the Ghaznavid who broke the temple of Somnath, the Raja Dahir who attacked the honor of Muslim women, Muhammad bin Qasim, the protector of the innocence of Muslim women, helped create the rift. I am not saying that children should not be taught historical events but in young age where they can quickly fall in love or hate, it is not appropriate to throw them into such an emotional mess but we constantly do it day in and day out. Starting from pulpit to university and colleges if the same extremist rhetoric against people of other faiths is promoted, the results will be the same that we are witnessing today.
What did Justice Tassaduq Jilani say about the syllabus?
Justice Tassaduq Jilani took Suo Motu notice of the attack on the All Saints Church in Peshawar and in his detailed judgment said that all the passages in the curriculum that offend any religion or group should be removed but unfortunately, such an important decision has never found an important place, that it deserves, in the policymaking process. Periodic reports on religious freedom are published by the United Nations and human rights organizations, which point to the oppression and mistreatment of minorities in Pakistan and India.
The teaching of Islamic Studies versus teaching of Ethics
In Pakistani educational institutions, there is a majority of Muslim students in the class and there are fewer children belonging to other religions, so they are also forced to study Islamic studies. Azhar Iqbal, principal of St. Joseph’s School Multan, says that if we have to share together this planet earth, then we must value each other’s religion and religious books, beliefs, and teachings.
Shakuntala Devi is a Hindu activist. She objects that why Ethics for other religions while Islamic Studies courses for Muslims? She asks pertinently that why Muslim students cannot be taught Ethics? Do they not need it?
Religious education should be limited to homes and places of worship instead of schools. Sabookh Syed
Sabookh Syed, a journalist, and researcher on religious issues in Pakistan says children are born with religion in their homes, they do not pick it from schools or colleges, so it is better that they should be given religious education at home and in their places of worship. There should be a subject of ethics in modern educational institutions which should mention the moral teachings of all religions i.e., kindness and good behavior towards each other.
How will the curriculum of hatred and prejudice work? Romana Bashir
Romana Bashir, executive director of the Institute for Peace and Development, says that according to Article 25A of the Constitution, education is a fundamental right of every person, which must be taught to every individual along with keeping his or her religious freedom and faith intact. Romana Bashir says it is important to improve the curriculum in order to establish social and religious harmony because in the future, the people who are taught such curriculum run the affairs of the country. If they learn hatred and prejudice in their educational institutions, how will the country function and how will people belonging to other religions be safe or even treated equally?
Change your mind, not just the curriculum. MNA Lal Chand Malhi
Lal Chand Malhi, a minority member in the National Assembly and member of the parliamentary committee on Human Rights, told IBC that the reforms made during the Zia era gave the country the gift of extremism. We have been living in the Zia era for forty years. Malhi says that along with changing the curriculum, there is also a need to change minds.
Alka Kumari says, we have lived in the region for centuries. Our ancestors are buried in this soil. We are seen as if we have come here from India. Unless the curriculum teaches children what the history, religions, and culture of the region are, we cannot be painted in the natural colors of the region and accepted as sons of the very same soil. Alka says the situation in Pakistan is changing. As extremism grows, so do the voices that were suppressed until yesterday.
Read it in Urdu