WASHINGTON DIARY: History as we know it — Dr Manzur Ejaz
Daily Times, July 9, 2008
An overhaul of the entire curriculum is a prerequisite for any positive change in the Pakistani psyche. Unfortunately, it is reluctantly being done under US pressure, which is leading to misperceptions of its own
“Was Aurangzeb a brutal emperor?” a fairly educated journalist asked me, after watching the play The Trial of Dara Shikoh. The question was revealing because it shows that the teaching of history leaves with our students concocted fiction rather than fact-based records of the present and past.
The play The Trial of Dara Shikoh written by Akbar S Ahmad and directed by Manjula Kumar had been staged in many locations in the last few weeks. As expected, most of the caste comprised Indian artists except the usual suspects, Noor Naghmi and his son Sultan Naghmi.
Despite much professional criticism of many aspects of the play, the general audience appreciated it very much. The play was also successful in spurring pertinent questions in the minds of the viewers like my journalist friend.
Aurangzeb imprisoned his father, murdered three of his brothers and most of their children. He dumped most of the Indian Shias in Kashmir and, once while he was riding his elephant, crushed a Hindu mob because they were protesting against high taxes. Given these facts, it was up to my friend, I told him, to decide whether Aurangzeb was brutal or not.
“How about the stated history that Aurangzeb used to make his living by producing Qur’anic calligraphy and sewing topis (hats)?” he asked. I remember such a characterisation of Aurangzeb in school textbooks. And if I had not kept educating myself beyond school textbooks that would be the Aurangzeb I would have in my mind.
Elaborating my point I told my friend that Aurangzeb spent most of his time fighting and administering wars and that his favourite wife — mother of his youngest son, Kam Bakhash — was a Hindu woman. Aurangzeb used to vacation in Kashmir often, along with a large harem, according to some historical accounts.
I do not know when he found time to produce calligraphy or sew topis on a scale that could meet the expenses of his palace which was housing hundreds of Mughal princes and princesses besides a large army of concubines and servants/slaves.
Intellectual Talibinisation was initiated from very early on after the creation of Pakistan. A mythical history of Muslims was introduced in textbooks where every ruler, invader and plunderer, was shown in the role of protector and religious crusader.
Starting from Mahmud Ghaznavi, the conqueror of the Somnath Temple, to Nadir and Ahmad Shah Abdali, every invader was presented as the great saviour of Indian Muslims. Three generations of Pakistanis have been indoctrinated with this concocted history to create Islamic chauvinism and to belittle people of other religions.
No wonder most Pakistanis developed a sense of superiority resulting in unnecessary war-mongering. The military elite has been clinging to this false sense of superiority in making wars.
According to Air Marshal Noor Khan, Ayub Khan sent paratroopers in Kashmir because he really believed that one Muslim soldier can overwhelm dozens of infidels. Not learning any lesson from three lost wars, the elite continued naming the missiles after Mahmud Ghaznavi, Muhammad Ghauri, Nadir Shah and sundry.
The fact of the matter is that most of the revered Muslim invaders plundered India to loot. Ghaznavi attacked Somnath because it had the largest gold deposits in India. Hindu Rajas themselves used to attack their religious temples for gold. Hindu mercenaries were part of Ghaznavi’s invading force according to some historians. They joined hand with the Afghan invaders for their share in the booty.
Likewise when Nadir Shah is idealised as a great soldier of Islam no one mentions that he ordered a three-day massacre in Delhi because the locals killed one of his soldiers. The butchering was indiscriminate and ironically, more than half of those murdered were Muslims.
Ahmad Shah Abdali’s story is no different. He invaded India many times, looted the riches and went back to Afghanistan. On one of his trip, he appointed a Hindu as the governor of Lahore. He had no ‘Islamic ideals’ like our fictional history textbooks would have us believe.
Even Mughal emperor Baber did not conquer Hindus but a Muslim dynasty of India to lay the foundations of the Mughal Empire. Guru Nanak, in his Baber Bani, has described how Baber butchered indiscriminately and demolished mosques along with temples of other religions.
But history textbooks used in Pakistan’s educational system never mention these historical facts. They are instead tools for creating fake chauvinism and a false sense of superiority. Therefore, it is not surprising that within 30 years of Pakistan’s creation, religious parties like Jamaat-e Islami had a monopoly over defining the ideology of Pakistan. And this ‘Murder of History’, as KK Aziz would call it, has contributed towards religious fundamentalism and extremism.
On the contrary, the real Muslim intellectuals, the Sufis, who spread Islam in India, have been shunned away by Pakistan’s educational system.
An overhaul of the entire curriculum is a prerequisite for any positive change in the Pakistani psyche. Unfortunately, it is reluctantly being done under US pressure, which is leading to misperceptions of its own. But it has to be done and someone has to do it.
Postscript: Hindu extremists, led by BJP, are following the Pakistani model by substituting history with mythological texts to whip up Hindu chauvinism. This reminds one of the Punjabi proverb that it is more common to pick up your neighbour’s bad habits rather than his good behaviour.
The writer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org