Integrated development, politics and social empowerment in India and beyond

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Jamila Verghese
Books written by B G Verghese

Books written by B G Verghese

Books written by B G Verghese

However, while it is good to hear the Pak Army Chief, General Kayani talking peace and putting development before defence, poisoned mindsets need to be purged. Little or no attention has been paid to the content of official text books taught in Pakistani schools that preach hatred against what is undisguisedly portrayed as the Hindu Indian enemy

Healing Minds

With the interlocuter reports in, it is time to seize the window of opportunity that has opened for a lasting Jammu & Kashmir settlement.

By B G Verghese

New Indian Express, 10 June, 2012

The Indian and Pakistan Home Secretaries recently reached agreement on a liberalised visa regime only to have Islamabad fatuously postpone the signature for a ministerial ceremony that puts protocol ahead of progress. The 26/11 judge in Rawalpindi has been transferred for the fifth time for no good reason, further delaying justice. These are disappointing, but we now await the Siachen and Sir Creek talks where commonsense solutions are required, and progress on the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) gas pipeline, which has been initialled and could be a transforming development if carried through.

However, while it is good to hear the Pak Army Chief, General Kayani talking peace and putting development before defence, poisoned mindsets need to be purged. Little or no attention has been paid to the content of official text books taught in Pakistani schools that preach hatred against what is undisguisedly portrayed as the Hindu Indian enemy that has never accepted Pakistan and is out to destroy it. UNESCO reminds us that wars begin in the minds of men. True. Therefore Pakistan cannot truly wage peace while preaching war.

The Jinnah Institute in Islamabad recently published a landmark study titled “The Continuing Biases in our Textbooks” (April 30, 2012) which some commentators describe as a “curriculum of hatred” that creates a sense of nationhood grounded in denominational thinking leading to religious bigotry. Though textbook reform was promised in 2005 after publication of SDPI’s stinging report, “The Subtle Subversion”, only limited changes have followed. Thus even today expert opinion within Pakistan uniformly finds that “textbooks in our public schools and colleges inculcate prejudice against non-Muslims who are depicted as enemies of Islam”. The books also “pit one Islamic denomination against another, resulting in sectarian hatred and violence”.

Stimulus came from Zia ul Haq’spolicy to Islamise Pakistan and American efforts to preach radical Islam to those in Afghanistan and Pakistan fighting godless communism with the circulation of US-supplied primers in Afghan refugee camps that taught “Jeem se Jihad” and “Kaaf se Kaafir”. Raised on a diet of these textbooks, today’s extremists are yesterday’s children”.

It is stated that loose drafting allows private publishes much leeway in the manner in which the curricula are to be interpreted. Now hope is seen in the 18th Constitutional Amendment that devolves responsibility for text book production on the Provinces.

Partition and the separation of Bangladesh and the transcending emphasis on Nazariya –i-Pakistan or the Ideology of Pakistan hold Hindus responsible for all of Pakistan’s ills. Progressive writers like Faiz, Manto, IsmatChugtai are absent in Sindh literary textbooks and women are denigrated in relation to men.

The study observes that teachers are products of a prejudiced system and while Madrasa only account for two per cent of school enrolment they wield disproportionate influence through the mosque and pulpit.
India too has some slanted textbooks, privately produced by ideologues for private schools. But their mischief is limited and their content is vigorously contested. One item the two sides could usefully put on the agenda of composite dialogue is addressing textbooks, stereotypes and perceptional biases. Why cannot a group of well-established and objective Indian, Pakistani and Bangladeshi historians be sponsored to write a joint school primer on South Asian history? This could mark a beginning in ironing out discords, with different perspectives presented on controversial issues where required.

India and Bangladesh are gradually ironing out their boundary and other outstanding issues but Dhaka justifiably remains sore that the Teesta accord was scuttled at the very last minute by a recalcitrant Mamata Bannerjee who had the gall to stand up her own prime minister on the eve of a signing ceremony in Dhaka. Even as efforts are on to resolve Mamata’s reservations, there are ominous reports that the lady is having second thoughts on the agreement recently concluded on exchanging enclaves in adverse possession on either side of the border to which again she was a party.

Her anxiety is reported to stem from the fear that the exchange of populations pursuant to the exchange of enclaves may result in a mass exodus from Bangladesh to West Bengal, despite census carried out that do not support this fear. She also wants a say in compensate claims as this could set precedents that embarrass her elsewhere. Such matters can be sorted out but should be allowed to get out of hand through emotional rhetoric. These left-over boundary issues following the Radcliffe Award in 1947 need to be speedily settled and not lest to fester and be exploited by vested interests on either side.

Any demand that the boundary agreement must be ratified not merely by Parliament but by the concerned Stare legislatures is misplaced. The boundary defines India’s diomain and only incidentally West Bengal, Assam or any other State. No cession of territory is involved but only rationalisation of boundaries left unsettled by Partition. Treaty making powers vest with the Centre and this matter was gone over in the Tin Bigha judgement.

Meanwhile, it is good to note that the Centre is apparently preparing to act boldly in discussing Bangladesh’s equities in harnessing water resources flowing into it from India. The matter has been in contention since the Farraka Accord, the Ganga being only one of 54 common rivers. What is now reportedly under consideration is that Bangladesh might be invited to participate jointly with India in the development and management of certain key water, energy and waterway projects, a proposition long advocated by this writer. Such a consummation devoutly to be wished as an embittered post-Partition sub-continental history can perhaps be best redeemed by the logic and promise of a shared geography.

This, however, requires a re-look at a growing but unreasoning “anti-dam” movement that is gathering momentum in various parts of the country, not least along the Himalayan belt and in the Northeast. The “sacredness” of streams, lakes and mountains is once again being invoked with agitations, threats and theatrical fasts-unto-death to “save” riversstrangulation, prevent displacement and prevent ecological loss. Excesses must certainly be prevented, and there is evidence of violence to nature or rampant pollution.
These must be checked; but exaggerated numbers and fears, imagined and invented, cannot be used to deny people the natural resources that can ensure them and the nation, collectively, a better future. The latest example comes from a National Green Tribunal order based on a NBA stay against filling the Maheshwar dam up to a level of 154 metres. The Supreme Court has passed severe strictures on the NBA for misrepresenting facts.On May 3 in the Omkareshwar case the Court said it must in future “view presentation of any matter by NBA with caution, insisting on proper pleadings, disclosure of full facts truly and fairly…”

Now, a leaked early-draft CAG report on coal that that body has itself disowned is being used to mount a campaign of calumny against the Prime Minister who is being freely lambasted as though he were a common felon. Discretion and decorum have been thrown to the winds. Allegations of corrupt practice can and must be investigated. But this cannot be done through a Punch and Judy showor motivated street clamour. This is dangerous politics.

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